Saturday, December 29, 2012

TOP STORY >> 2012: First Lady, Chinese acrobats visit; firefighters killed

Did you know that the Leader newspaper averages five stories on the front page every issue? That’s 520 different headlines in a year, plus thousands more on the inside pages. Headlines about good news, tragedies, politics, economics, schools and people.

Here is the first in a series looking back at those headlines of 2012.


• Birds pull town together — Beebe officials and residents worked together to prevent another blackbird disaster. On New Year’s Eve 2011, about 5,000 of the birds dropped dead from the sky and their roosts, apparently from be frightened by loud, large fireworks. This year only 450 dead birds were found.

• LRAFB backs up traffic — The base initiated a new security-check system which had traffic backed up from the front gate, down Vandenberg Boulevard, up the frontage road, back up Toneyville Road and Hwy.67/167 almost to Cabot. Delays for the same reason at the back gate had Hwy. 107’s northbound and southbound lanes stacked.

• Avionics testing on hold at base — Budget restraints were cited as the reason for the Air Force postponing tests of the first updated Avionics Modernizations Program planes.

• Carlisle farmer dies in grain silo — According to reports, the farmer was inside the silo attempting to clear a blockage when he fell into the rice and quickly went under. It took rescue workers about an hour to find the body.

• Teacher with gun arrested — A Jacksonville High School teacher was arrested after a student stole her purse, which had a gun in it. She was charged with possession of a handgun on school property.

• Sister loses legs after dispute — A 32-year-old Carlisle woman ran over her older sister during a family dispute. The injured sister was flown to the hospital where both her legs were amputated.

• Contractors start repairs at LRAFB — Repairs to seven buildings on the base, damaged from an April 2011 tornado, started at a cost of about $16 million.

• Stalker leaves jail, kills woman — Ronnie Odell Stewart, 38, of Maumelle, who was in the Lonoke County Jail on charges of rape, false imprisonment and terroristic threatening was released on a $50,000 bond and then killed himself and the Austin woman who accused him of the crimes.

• China troupe thrills crowd at a big show — Talented acrobats from China performed in Jacksonville as a fundraiser for a proposed arts center to be housed in the now-closed Jacksonville Elementary School.

• Evanescence visits Hastings — The popular Grammy-award winning rock group stopped in at the Jacksonville music store and signed autographs before performing in North Little Rock.

• Study reveals road dangers for area cities — Metroplan report cites concern over high pedestrian and bicycle crashes with vehicles on South First Street in Jacksonville and Main Street in Cabot.

• Change of command slated for 19th AW — Col. Brian (Smokey) Robinson assumes command of the 19th Airlift Wing from Col. Mike Minihan.


• Principal meets JHS students to hear grievances — Six students, a cross-section of the student body, meet with Principal Henry Anderson to discuss problems within the school and how to fix them in the first meeting of the Principal’s Cabinet.

• First Arkansas obtains credit card business — the Jacksonville-based financial institution became the sole owner of the $115 million BV Card Assets in Atlanta and plans on expanding the business.

• Base units thrive amid cuts—The National Guard and Reserves are losing only three C-130s over the next five years as they add more personnel to their ranks.

• LRAFB shows Mrs. Obama its right stuff — The 19th AW commander showed First Lady Michelle Obama during a visit to the base how LRAFB has upgraded its menu and is serving healthier foods.

• Wing Ding Festival to end as chamber withdraws support — After 13 years, the chamber decided not to host the festival anymore. The chamber cited dropping attendance, lack of volunteers and that last year’s festival lost $12,000.

• Teacher is facing charges in court — An eighth-grade science teacher at Cabot Junior High North was arrested and charged with 11 counts of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of second-degree sexual assault after allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old male student.

• Must slash to survive, PCSSD says — The Pulaski County Special School District was in fiscal distress and said it would be “fatal” if the union didn’t agree to an additional $7 million in cuts. Despite the financial cliff, district officials did say that they still planned on making almost $9 million in school improvements this year.

• Sentence for killer: Life with no parole — David Derreberry arrested in April 2011 for murdering a Cabot pawn shop owner pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to life without parole.

• CHS class builds house in Cabot — Juniors and seniors in the high school’s construction technology program built a $143,500 three-bedroom home.

• Sherwood coffee firm helps Haitian growers — Employees with Biff’s Coffee provided training to Haitian coffee farmers, showing them better growing and roasting methods.

• Filing season opens — Campaign filings for local and state races began and a number of candidates signed up as soon as the doors opened.

• Negotiations in PCSSD fail as two sides still far apart — after meeting with the Pulaski County Special School District and federal mediators, the teacher’s union declared an impasse in talks that including maintaining recognition of the union and its contract with the district.

• Rezoning paves way for Walmart — The Beebe City Council approved a change in zoning which would allow a 156,000-square-foot Walmart to be built in the 2000 block of West Center Street.

• Sherwood given two opinions on funds — Who controls the improvement funds for the city golf course—the public facilities board or the city? The council decided it was the city.

• Ex-cop held for assault — A former Austin police officer was arrested after allegedly sexually assaulting a prisoner in his custody.


• Sheriff’s race draws six candidates — After Lonoke County Sheriff made it clear that he was not running for reelection, six candidates stepped up to take his place.

• Newspaper celebrates 25 years — The Leader newspaper, which has been honored as the best largest weekly in the state for the last five years, celebrates its 25th year in business serving Jacksonville, Cabot, Sherwood and surrounding communities.

• Veteran aldermen retire after long service — Two Jacksonville aldermen, representing 52 years of experience, opted to retire. Marshall Smith, with 32 years on the council, and Bob Stroud, who had given 20 years of service to the city, both decided to pass the torch to new blood.

• Unions sue PCSSD to stop end run — Both the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff took the Pulaski County Special School District to court to stop it from slicing pay, benefits and other financial aspects of teacher and staff contracts.

• Another golf course closes — The Lonoke Golf Course is reported as being dangerously close to closing. The owners said if they couldn’t find a buyer or someone to take over payments by April 1 the course would close.

• More airmen slated for LRAFB — Up to 1,100 active-duty and reservists are scheduled to arrive at the air base while cuts are implemented elsewhere.

• LRAFB putting $780M in area — Combined with the Air National Guard, the base pumps more than double into local economy than what it did in 2000.

• Two state champions celebrate — Sylvan Hills High School won the boys 5A state tourney and the Cabot Lady Panthers won the state 7A title.

• Mayor is fine after surgery — Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert took off three days for bypass surgery in North Little Rock. His recovery went well.

• Greystone is getting back into full swing — The Melbourne businessman who bought the front golf course and clubhouse in Cabot’s Greystone subdivision for $650,000 from the bank that foreclosed on the property said he had plans to reopen the course as soon as possible. The other course, Cypress Creek, was purchased by Cabot businessman Steve Grimm, who also plans to open the course, but said the poor condition of the course might take a year or more to rectify.

• Lighthouse set to open a high school in 2013 — The announcement was made that Lighthouse Academies was set to build an $8 million, 50,000-square-foot high school next to its elementary campus off North First Street.

• Lonoke High School breaks ground for new complex — Work started in March on the high school’s $9.6 million, 54,000 square-foot, multipurpose Gina Cox Center.

• Tragic week for fire department — The third week of March will long be remembered by the fire department. It responded to a duplex fire that killed a mother and her four children and questions were raised about the department’s policies and whether or not it could have prevented that tragedy. Then a firefighter is killed another injured when an individual purposely drives trough barricade and runs into firefighters and police trying to get render aid to a woman who drove off Hwy. 161 into a ditch.

• Farewell to fallen firefighter — Fire Capt. Donald Lee Jones was buried March 24 after he was deliberately struck and killed by Bryce Allen, 47, of Jacksonville as Jones and others tried to get Allen’s mother out of her car which she had driven into a ditch off Hwy. 161. Firefighter Jason Bowmaster and police officer Daniel DiMatteo were also seriously injured in the incident.

• Driver has criminal past, mental problems — Bryce Allen, 47, who drove through barricades to rundown police and firefighters assisting his mother after she ran off Hwy. 161 into a ditch, was an Army veterans, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been arrested in 2009 for second-degree battery of a police office and terroristic threatening.

• Cabot sales tax would pay for highway ramp — A task force proposed extending a one-cent sales tax to help pay for a $19 million interchange between Cabot and Austin to help alleviate traffic.

• School remembers fire victims — Teachers, classmates, parents and friends gathered at Dupree Elementary March 30 to remember the lives of three students who died in a tragic house fire March 22. The fire claimed the life of a single mom and her four children.

• District to move teacher with gun — A Jacksonville High School teacher who inadvertently brought a gun to school in her purse in January didn’t lose her job or go to jail. The district suspended her for the rest of the school year, placed her on probation for two years and told her she must apply for a position at a different school.


• A parade 37 years after the war — Vietnam veterans were saluted in Jacksonville with a parade in their honor and were called heroes, a far cry from the scornful welcome many received returning from the war.

• Family says farewell to fire victims — Hundreds turned out for the funeral of a mom and her four children who died of smoke inhalation in a house fire that raised questions about HUD procedures and fire department policies.

• “Pot-pourri” bust stops big profits for three stores — Law enforcement officers from Ward, Cabot and Austin raided shops selling synthetic marijuana in the form of bath salts and related items. In all, 15,000 packets were taken of the shelves, stopping a multi-million dollar business.

• Judge puts nail in coffin for North Belt — A judge ruled in favor of a Sherwood subdivision, telling the Highway Department to buy the rights of way now for the planned freeway loop or let the developer build. Since no one seems to have the money to buy the land, the developer is building on the rights of way.

• Turnover at charter schools is a concern — Parents and others voice concern over a high turnover rate and sluggish test scores at the Lighthouse Academy schools in Jacksonville.

• Family sues over death — The family of a woman who wandered away from an assisted living facility in Cabot and died of hypothermia sued the facility for negligence.

• City no longer owns hospital — It took three years for Jacksonville to complete its $10 million sale of North Metro Hospital to Allegiance Health Management, the firm that had been managing the hospital.

• State kills unions to cut costs in PCSSD — State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell backed the Pulaski County Special School District’s plans to no longer recognize the teacher or staff unions in an effort to save $11 million.

• Deadly end on rural road —Lonoke County deputy Jack Fitzhugh shot and killed Dustin Williamson after Williamson attacked the deputy with a tire-jack stand.

• Students re-enact drunk driving — North Pulaski High School students learned how dangerous drunk driving could be by participating and witnessing a true-to-life simulation.

• Sunday concert a benefit for three first responders — Bucky Covington, an American Idol finalist, headlined a concert to raise funds to help the families of the two first-responders who were injured and the family of one that was killed in March when a driver slammed into them as they were giving aid to an accident victim.

• Chief: Sherwood underpays cops — Police Chief Jim Bedwell told the city’s personnel committee that his officers were underpaid and that’s why so many were leaving for other jobs that paid more.

• PCSSD, unions try to survive amid turmoil — The teachers’ and staff unions accused the state education department and the school district of trying to undermine the gains the unions have made over the last 40 years for teachers and staff.

• School’s charter renewed — The State Board of Education renewed the charter for Cabot’s Academic Center of Excellence for five more years.

• First Electric celebrates longevity — The venerable electric cooperative celebrated its 75th year of supplying power to Jacksonville, Sherwood, Cabot and the surrounding area.

Compiled by Rick Kron