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Smithville Alderman Changes His Mind About Seeking Third Term

April 4, 2018
By: Dwayne Page

Two term incumbent Smithville Alderman Jason Murphy has had a change of heart and will not seek re-election to a third term in the Municipal Election on August 2nd.

The deadline to get in the race for Smithville Alderman or Mayor is noon Thursday, April 5.

Murphy, who had already qualified to run again, contacted the election commission Wednesday to formally withdraw from the race. He will remain on the town council until his current term is completed on August 31.

While he has enjoyed being alderman, Murphy said he needs to devote more time to his growing business, Optimus Pest Solutions. “ I feel honored to have served the citizens of Smithville for two terms (six years). It has been a wonderful experience,” said Murphy.

Murphy was first elected in 2012 when the terms were only for two years. He was re-elected to a four year term in 2014.

With Murphy’s departure from the race, only two candidates remain to fill the two alderman positions up for election in August. The remaining candidates are Incumbent alderman and local attorney Gayla Hendrix and political newcomer and local attorney Brandon Cox. Hendrix was first elected alderman in 2011 but was defeated for re-election in 2013 when the terms were for only two years. She rejoined the town council after successfully running again in 2014.

Meanwhile, three candidates are now in the race for Smithville Mayor on August 2nd.

Incumbent Mayor Jimmy Poss is seeking his third term. He has served six years. He was first elected to a two year term in 2012 and then to a four year term in 2014. His opponents are Curtis Rust and Incumbent Alderman Josh Miller who is in his second term, having served in that role since 2013. Because he is in midterm, Miller does not have to give up his alderman seat to run for mayor.

Again noon Thursday, April 5 is the qualifying deadline for candidates to run for mayor or alderman in the Smithville Municipal Election on Thursday, August 2.

Trial Date Postponed for Alleged Courthouse Arsonist

April 4, 2018
By: Dwayne Page

The man accused of setting fire to the courthouse almost two years ago was scheduled to stand trial Wednesday for arson but the case against 55 year old Gary Wayne Ponder has been delayed.

During a brief hearing Wednesday morning in DeKalb County Criminal Court, Judge Gary McKenzie granted a defense motion for a continuance (postponement) of the trial after learning that Ponder’s medical condition could be affecting his mental state. The judge has reset the trial date for May 9 and ordered that Ponder undergo another evaluation in the meantime to determine if he is competent to stand trial. He was deemed to be competent after his first evaluation several weeks after the fire

As grounds for seeking the continuance, Assistant Public Defender Scott Grissom included with his motion a letter from Sherry Wright, a nurse practitioner at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who saw Ponder on March 21 and found him to be confused. According to Wright, Ponder is being treated for cirrhosis of the liver and that complications from this condition causes confusion.

In her letter to whom it may concern, Wright wrote on April 2 that “ I am caring for Mr. Gary Ponder who has a diagnosis of cirrhosis. One of the complications with cirrhosis is hepatic encephalopathy. This condition causes confusion because ammonia builds up in the brain when it does not metabolize in the liver due to cirrhosis (scarring in the liver). When I saw him (Ponder) in the office on March 21 he was confused. I have started a medication called Lactulose that helps to remove the ammonia from his brain to help with his condition”.

In granting the motion for a delay, Judge McKenzie said this is a serious case and he wanted to ensure that a just and fair trial be held and to lessen the risk of the case being sent back on appeal for another trial.

Assistant District Attorney General Stephanie Johnson said while the state looks forward to trying this case, she understands the reasons for the judge’s decision in light of the new information provided to the court.

While Ponder remains on bond pending the trial, Judge McKenzie instructed him to follow through on reporting for his scheduled evaluation within the next 30 days. If he doesn’t, Judge McKenzie warned Ponder that he would be ordered into custody for the evaluation.

Smithville Police charged Ponder on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 after he was observed on the courthouse surveillance video system intentionally lighting fire in a newspaper recycling bin on the first floor vestibule. The video showed that on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 Ponder grabbed newspapers from the recycling bin and started the fire by lighting them with a cigarette lighter. The fire damaged the wall behind the recycling bin and cracked a window in the vestibule near the first floor entrance of the courthouse.

Local attorney Jim Judkins was the first to spot the blaze. He tried to activate the fire alarm and accessed a fire extinguisher which he used to try to put out the blaze.

“I was going into the basement of the courthouse to file a notice with the court and noticed there was a fire about waist level in the recycling bins located in the front of the basement area. I tried to find if there was a fire extinguisher or a fire alarm. An individual had already pulled a fire alarm and it wasn’t working. I then went over to the election commission office and told them to call the fire department. I was looking for anything to put it out. I grabbed a coffee pot and some drinks off their desks (election commission office) and threw that on it (fire). That put it down a little. I then tried to activate another fire alarm but it too did not go off. Someone then brought me a fire extinguisher and I got it put out. It had burned part of the wall (behind the bin) and there was a ton of smoke to the point that I had to get down on my knees to finish putting the fire out,” Judkins told WJLE.

Members of the Smithville Fire Department were notified and quickly responded.

Judkins later discovered that he had not completely extinguished the fire himself. ” I talked with Smithville Fire Chief Charlie (Parker). I thought I had the fire put out but when they (city firefighters) took over he (Chief Parker) said it was smoldering and they had to empty another extinguisher,” said Judkins.

County Mayor Tim Stribling said the total damages to the courthouse caused by the fire came to $120,706.52, which was the amount of the claim paid by the county’s insurance provider.

After the fire smoke had to be cleared from the courthouse, new ceiling tiles and dry wall work were required and a broken glass in the vestibule doorway had to be replaced.

The county also installed a new fire alarm system in the courthouse provided by FireTeam of Tracy City at a cost of $35,363.81. The system meets the latest International Fire Codes.

Two Injured in Wednesday Morning Crash on Highway 70 East

April 4, 2018
By: Dwayne Page

Two people were injured in a crash today (Wednesday) on Highway 70 east near Turtle’s Bar & Grill.

Trooper Bobby Johnson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said 44 year old Jared Hendrixson of McMinnville was traveling east on Highway 70 in a 1992 Chevy Lumina when he crossed into the oncoming lane and struck a westbound 2014 Honda Accord driven by 63 year old Kathy Kujawski of Sparta. After impact, the Lumina went off an embankment.

Entrapped in his car, Hendrixson was extricated by members of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Team. He was then airlifted by helicopter ambulance to Vanderbilt Hospital.

Kujawski was transported by DeKalb EMS to Cookeville Regional Medical Center.

Members of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department were also on the scene.

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