Local News Articles

Fire Fighters Battle Cabin Fires at Edgar Evins State Park.

August 24, 2006
Dwayne Page

DeKalb County and Putnam County Volunteer Firefighters are on the scene of a fire at Edgar Evins State Park.

Officials say at least two and possibly a third cabin is on fire in the park.

Members of the Cookeville Highway and Short Mountain Highway Fire Stations are on the scene along with the equipment and tanker truck. The county is also receiving mutual aid back up support from a Putnam County Fire Station.

DeKalb EMS is also on the scene as a precaution.

The fire was reported at 4:56 a.m. today (Thursday).

Meanwhile a storage trailer behind Basement Sales caught fire Wednesday night. It was reported at 10:46 p.m. Firefighters were sent to the scene.

Smithville Police Chief Clemente Resigns- Makes Accusations Against City Administration

August 24, 2006
Dwayne Page

Less than six months after being named Smithville Police Chief, Agustin Clemente, Jr. has resigned, citing differences with the City Administration.

Clemente has also leveled certain allegations against both Mayor Taft Hendrixson and Secretary-Treasurer Burnace Vandergriff, which they both have denied.

Before turning in his badge Wednesday afternoon, witnesses say Chief Clemente vented his frustrations directly toward Vandergriff in a verbal display of anger, shouting obscenities and allegedly threatening physical harm to Vandergriff.

As Clemente was cleaning out his office, city officers and a county deputy were summoned to city hall as a security precaution, but there was no further incident.

In a letter addressed to Police Commissioner Aaron Meeks on Wednesday, Clemente wrote that \"with much regret, I hereby submit my resignation effective immediately as the Senior Law Enforcement Officer for the City of Smithville.\"

Clemente makes specific allegations, in the letter, accusing both Mayor Hendrixson and Vandergriff of \"inappropriately and constantly using their positions to interfere with police operations\".

However, several Smithville Police Officers, including Sergeant Steven Leffew, say Clemente became difficult to work for; that he was verbally abusive and degrading to city officers, constantly shouting and cursing at them over little things, sometimes in the presence of the public; and that he was paranoid and suspicious that others were out to get him.

Mayor Hendrixson says based on officers complaints, he met with Clemente about two to three weeks ago and warned him to stop the verbal assaults against his staff.

Officers were apparently told by Clemente that he was their supervisor, and that they should not take their concerns to either Vandergriff or to Mayor Hendrixson, and any time Clemente saw the officers talking to either of the two men, he would often become angry and would verbally reprimand them.

Such was the case on Wednesday when Clemente saw Sergeant Leffew coming out of Vandergriff's office at city hall.

According to Vandergriff, when Leffew stepped out of his office, an angry Clemente entered and began screaming and shouting at Vandergriff.

Vandergriff says he asked Clemente to calm down, but Clemente kept getting louder, until Vandergriff escorted him out of his office and into the hall.

Later that afternoon as Vandergriff was getting in his truck to leave for the day, Clemente, who was standing near the side entrance to city hall by the police station, again began shouting and cursing at Vandergriff, and allegedly threatened to whip him.

Vandergriff, who claims he had pretty much kept his cool during his previous confrontation with Clemente , decided he had heard enough and challenged Clemente to go ahead and follow through on his threat. Vandergriff says after a barrage of shouts, obscenities, and threats, Clemente instead turned and walked away.

Clemente was unavailable for comment on the incidents.

Among the allegations cited in his letter, Clemente says \" On two recent occasions, the Mayor, who also works as a 911 Dispatcher, has placed calls from the dispatch center while working there to officers on the scene of a traffic stop or investigation in an attempt to sway the officers into not ticketing a violator due to the Mayor's personal affiliation with the subject or family.\"

Mayor Hendrixson says there is no truth to Clemente's assertion. \"I have not asked any officer to do anything about a ticket and won't\".

Clemente, in his letter, writes that \" a large number of qualified police applicants have submitted their resumes to my office indicating their immediate availability for employment. I have advised the Mayor and Secretary about these qualified personnel only to have these individuals harshly rejected due to their family affiliations and religious beliefs. Recently, I was ordered by the Mayor to hire two individuals that had been fired or demoted by the Smithville Police Department and or board of alderman in the past.\"

Mayor Hendrixson denies that allegation. \"I certainly have never ordered him to hire or not to hire anyone. The officers are leaving here as fast as they are coming in and they say it's because of him.\"

Clemente, who is a Cuban-American, charges that \"the Secretary-Treasurer has continually and publicly ridiculed me using racial slurs about my heritage to other individuals. The most recent comment is that ?I am going to buy that Cuban a boat and send him back to where he came from'. While I was deeply troubled over these racially prejudiced comments, I felt my new position would be in jeopardy if I were to say anything. I have been in the presence of the Mayor when he has made similar remarks about other Smithville employees.\"

Mayor Hendrixson denies making any racial slurs about Clemente or any city employee, and Vandergriff says both he and Clemente would often engage in some good natured joking back and forth when Clemente first became chief, but that he never, and would never, intentionally humiliate him about his race.

Clemente alleges that there is \"ongoing misappropriations of drug fund finances currently being managed by the Treasurers Office\".

According to Vandergriff, all city drug funds are properly spent and accounted for. \"Money from the drug fund is supposed to be divided with the General Fund, but since there has been so little money in the drug fund, I have been leaving 100% of the money in the drug fund and there has been no misappropriation of it whatsoever. I welcome anyone to examine the records. All monies have been properly deposited and receipted.\"

In fact, Vandergriff says, most of the money spent from the drug fund lately has been at Clemente's request to purchase a certified drug dog, a truck and cage to haul it in, and for the training of an officer.\"

With Clemente's departure, the city is faced with having to name a new Police Chief, which would be it's fifth in the last three years.

Former Chief Richard Jennings, who held the position for nine years, was replaced by Jim Baker in November 2003. Nine months later in August, 2004, Baker was replaced by Sam Dunbar. In January, 2006, Dunbar resigned amid a cloud of controversy, and was replaced in March by Clemente.

Jennings, now a Lieutenant, remains with the police department and Baker, who has just resigned his position as Police Chief in Alexandria, has rejoined the Smithville Department as an officer.

No word yet on when a new Chief will be named by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Two People Rescued After Being Injured In Separate Weekend Accidents

September 4, 2006
Dwayne Page

A 42 year old woman suffered an apparent broken ankle while hiking with family and a friend on nature trail Sunday afternoon at Edgar Evins State Park.

Charlie Parker, DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator, says the woman was with her two teenage children and a friend when she apparently slipped on some rocks and twisted her ankle while hiking on the John C. Clayborn trail.

Parker says the woman used a cell phone to call 911, but she was so far out in the woods, about two to three miles, it was difficult to get her out. Emergency workers kept in contact with her by cell phone and used GPS coordinates to pinpoint her exact location.

Parker says the woman, who could not walk, was placed in a basket and taken down to the lake, where TWRA officers transferred her by boat to a nearby boat ramp. From there, she was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Cookeville.

Among those participating in the three hour rescue operation, in addition to Parker, were Park Rangers and maintenance employees at Edgar Evins State Park, DeKalb EMS, members of the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Team, DeKalb County Rescue Squad, DeKalb County Volunteer Firefighters, TWRA Officers, DeKalb County deputies, and the Putnam County Rescue Squad.

Meanwhile, a 17 year old Nashville youth was seriously injured late Saturday night after he fell some 40 to 45 feet into a gorge at New Frontiers on the Old Snow Hill Road.

Sheriff Patrick Ray says he and other officers responded to the 911 call along with DeKalb EMS.

The boy was removed from the gorge and taken by ambulance to Lebanon where he was airlifted to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville.

The boy, apparently visiting New Frontiers on a retreat, suffered a serious head injury.

Five Teens Involved In Sunday Crash

September 5, 2006
Dwayne Page

Five teenagers were involved in a one car crash Sunday at Big Woods Road.

Trooper Johnny Farley of the Tennessee Highway Patrol says 15 year old Stephen D. Grantham was traveling east in a 1995 Dodge Intrepid when he failed to negotiate a curve, ran off the right shoulder of the road, continued for 79 feet, and hit a tree head on.

Grantham says he had to swerve to avoid hitting another vehicle.

Trooper Farley says others with Grantham included, 14 year old Brandon Puckett, 15 year old Charles Bates, 15 year old Chip Robinson, and 16 year old Jeffery R. Puckett.

Robinson was seriously injured and airlifted to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga

Grantham, Puckett, and Bates were transported to DeKalb Community Hospital with minor injuries. Puckett was not injured.

Trooper Farley says all five boys were wearing their seatbelts.

Grantham was charged with driving on a learners permit and failure to exercise due care.

Collins Named Alexandria Police Chief

August 25, 2006
Dwayne Page

Alexandria has a new Police Chief.

Alderman Charles Griffith says Mark Collins, former DARE Officer and Captain of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has been named Acting Chief, pending action by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Collins, succeeds Jim Baker who officially stepped down as Chief Thursday evening.

The positions of Sergeant Tim Hearn and Officer Josh King have not yet been filled. Griffith says Collins will have input on who get those jobs.

Baker, Hearn and King resigned after city officials decided to eliminate the day shift because of budget woes and focus more on providing law enforcement at night.

Sells Seeks Injunction To Prevent Patterson From Being Sworn Into Office

August 27, 2006
Dwayne Page

A hearing is set for Tuesday morning in Putnam County Chancery Court to determine whether an injunction should be ordered to keep David Patterson from taking office as Criminal Court Judge this week.

A swearing-in ceremony is set for Wednesday for the new Chancellor as well as the Circuit and Criminal Court Judges in the 13th Judicial District

However Judge Lillie Ann Sells is seeking an injunction and a restraining order to prevent Patterson from taking the oath of office, until her election contest in Chancery Court has been adjudicated.

A hearing on her motions is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Chancery Court in Cookeville before Judge Ben H. Cantrell, a retired Nashville judge who has been appointed to hear the Sells election contest lawsuit.

Attorney Craig Fickling of Cookeville, attorney John Knowles of Sparta and attorney Amy Hollars of Livingston represent Patterson in the lawsuit Sells has filed against him and the election commissions in seven counties.

Sells contends in her lawsuit that various voting irregularities in the August 3rd election cast doubt on whether Patterson is actually the winner.

McMinnville Man Injured In Friday Morning Crash

August 28, 2006
Dwayne Page

A 23 year old man was seriously injured in a traffic accident around 3:50 a.m. Friday morning on Highway 56 south near Sink Creek.

Sergeant Billy Prater of the Tennessee Highway Patrol says Jose M. Castillo of McMinnville was driving north in a 1998 Dodge Dakota pickup truck when he failed to negotiate a curve after cresting a hill, went off the right side of the road, traveled 317 feet down a ditch line, struck the end of a guard rail, and continued another 163 feet. The truck overturned several times before it finally came to rest on it's right side at a drainage ditch.

Sergeant Prater says three other motorists on Highway 56 struck a portion of the guardrail that protruded out in the road after the crash, but none of them was injured.

Prater says Castillo was airlifted from near the scene and flown to either Vanderbilt or Erlanger Hospital.

In addition to DeKalb EMS, members of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department and Sheriff's Department assisted at the scene.


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