Monday, December 23, 2013

TOP STORY >> 2013 IN REVIEW: It was a year to remember

(Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part series looking back at 2013.)

Murder, mayhem, money and mush carried us through March as a number of individuals were charged in murder cases; Sherwood’s effort to keep North Little Rock Electric caused a lot of mayhem; cities looked to taxes to get money, and melting ice and snow provide the mush.


• Power outage: More than 15,000 area residents were in the dark after a late December 2012 storm dumped a foot of ice and snow locally. Most residents were back in the light by the first week of January.

• Lonoke County’s new sheriff cleans house: When John Staley took over the department on Jan.1 he dismissed all the deputies except Lt. Jim Kulesa.

• Locals want change: A grassroots group in Sherwood gathered signatures asking that the city’s decision to keep North Little Rock as an energy provider be voted on by the residents. The drive ended up short 137 signatures.

• Storm debris lingers: During the first week of January, Jacksonville Public Works removed 1,200 cubic yards of storm debris. Cleanup efforts continued for months in Jacksonville and Sherwood.

• Sexual harassment firing: The Sherwood Civil Service Commission upheld the police chief’s recommendation to fire Sgt. Josh Adams for sexual harassing a female colleague and other professional misconduct.

• Police car hits home: A Sherwood police officer crashed his vehicle into a home on Wildwood Avenue while in pursuit of a fleeing suspect. The officer suffered minor injuries.

• Jacksonville pioneer dies: Martha Boyd, 90, the city’ first female police officer, a longtime council member, director of the Miss Jacksonville Pageant for 20 years and a private investigator died.

• Defense cuts: Sen. Mark Pryor, Rep. Tim Griffin and Gov. Mike Beebe all worked so that Little Rock Air Force suffered minimal damage from federal budget cuts.

• Sexual harassment classes: To help clean up problems in the Sherwood Police Department, Chief Jim Bedwell holds retraining classes and announces “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment.

• Snow day: Another blast of winter weather causes schools and businesses to close early. Luckily the storm passed quickly and it did not turn into an extended vacation for students.

• Bridge swap: Lonoke took over a portion of Hwy. 89 from the state in exchange for the highway department covering the city’s $600,000 share for a $9 million I-40 overpass.

• Honoring Martin Luther King Jr: Jacksonville’s NAACP and the city partnered for a day of service to honor the late civil rights leader.

• Teacher jailed: Cabot teacher Sherry Stracener is sentenced to six years in prison on 11 counts of sexual assault in the first degree and two counts of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
• Colonel makes good: Col. Brain Robinson, former commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, was nominated to become a brigadier general by President Barack Obama. The Senate later confirmed the nomination.

• Death penalty sought: Lonoke County Prosecutor Churck Graham announced that he would seek the death penalty for Jeremy D. Davis, 29, of Jacksonville and Nicholas R. Hollaway, 23, of Beebe in the brutal death of Hurbert D. Jackson.

• Skateworld becomes flea market: New owners of the closed skating rink signed a two-year lease an option to buy the building.

• Rapid-fire gun sales: Local gun shops were having trouble keeping guns and ammunition in stock as customers feared the school shooting Newtown, Conn., would cause the government to restrict sales.

• Upscale apartments: Work started on a $22 million upscale apartment complex in Cabot. Work continues on the project that will include 300 apartments because of a change in building contractors.


• North Belt moving north: Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert asked area mayors to support moving the forever-stalled project closer to Cabot.

• Banquet cut short by tornado: Jacksonville’s annual chamber dinner was cut extremely short when tornado sirens and cell-phone alerts sounded. As the meal ended, everyone left before the speakers were set to start.

• Bibles and guns: Debate begins over the safety of churchgoers having concealed guns. The Arkansas Legislature passed a bill allowing churches to decide whether to allow worshipers to carry guns.

• Slavery exhibit: The Museum of American History in Cabot features local papers, notices and other items from the slavery period.

• Chamber honors: The Sherwood Chamber recognized its man and woman of the year, plus five others for outstanding work and dedication.

• Charges possible: Special prosecutor considered murder and assault charges for Christopher Reynolds, 34, who shot Ernest Hoskins Jr., an employee of his home-based company.

• New festival: Jacksonville’s Parks and Recreation Depart-ment announced it would hold Festiville one year after the chamber of commerce pulled its sponsorship of the Wing Ding festival.

• Vote set: Sherwood accepted petitions to vote on an electric provider for a large portion of the city. The council set a May election date for residents to decide whether or not to keep North Little Rock Electric, which voters supported.

• Sewage money: Cabot asked for a vote to support extending the city’s 1-cent sales tax to finance $8.2 million sewer upgrade and millions of dollars for parks and new library.

• Lucky duck: Matt Robin-son, publications manager for The Leader is elected to be the next state chairman of Arkansas Ducks Unlimited.

• Fire chief retires: John Vanderhoof retires as Jack-sonville fire chief a month shy of his 43rd year with the department. He was chief for 15 years.

• Nevada training: The 41st Airlift Squadron spent time in “All for our Country” state practicing in high altitude and desert condition readying for deployment to Afghanistan.

• PCSSD discipline: A report showed black students in the Pulaski County Special School District were disciplined more than whites. Black students make up 44.2 percent of the district but made up 63 percent of the students who were suspended.

• LRAFB shines: Sen. John Boozman called the base “the superstar of the world for C-130s” as he worked to reduce budget cuts facing the base.

• Not a pretty face: Cancer survivor Rick Bender, 50, whose face is disfigured from mouth and throat cancer talked to Cabot High School students about the dangers of smokeless tobacco.

• Still too high: In its third attempt to get reasonable bids for the construction of the shooting sports facility, Jacksonville reviewed 10 bids. The lowest — at $2.5 million — was still $200,000 above the city’s desired cost.

• Sequester cuts: Little Rock Air Force Base’s budget would be slashed by $2 million if sequestration goes into effect. The military would take about half of the planned $2 trillion in automatic cuts.

• Taxing water: Sherwood approved a 4.25 percent franchise tax on Central Arkansas Water because it charges the city more than its neighbors.


• No RVs: The Beebe City Council rejects plans for a new RV park off Hwy. 64 over fencing, length of RV stays and concerns that it would attract criminal activity.

• Reading the voters: The Cabot City Council unveiled designs for a new $2.6 million library planned for the city enticing voters to support extending the city’s 1-cent sales tax.

• Bid on target: Jacksonville accepts $2.55 million bid to build a shooting-sports range. Stonebridge Construction of Jonesboro agreed to reduce its previous bid by adjusting its plan.

• School gun scare: Tyler Hansen, 29, of Sherwood was charged with two felony counts of communicating a false alarm after saying there was a gunman at or near Sylvan Hills Middle School.

• New fire chief: Jacksonville hired Alan Laughy, an assistant fire chief at Little Rock Air Force Base, as fire chief.

• Shooting charges reduced: Christopher Reynolds, the Ward man who shot and killed his employee pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Murder charges were not filed against him.

• Principal retires: Lonoke High School Principal Phy-naus Wilson announced his retirement after 36 years in education, the last 11 as head of the high school. In 2011, he was abruptly fired and parents and students successfully rallied to have him reinstated.

• New parks director: Cabot hired John Crow from 30 applicants to head the parks and recreation department and oversee efforts to get voters to approve $20 million in taxes for new park projects.

• Honoring first responders: A group of Jacksonville residents banded together to develop a Fallen Heroes Memorial Garden to be built at the new police department on Marshall Road to honor people who died in service to the city.

• The late Fire Capt. Donald Jones, who was struck and killed by a vehicle while working an accident on Hwy. 161, inspired the memorial.

• Sequestration strikes: Congress failed to strike a deal forcing automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Beebe schools braced for a $200,000 hit, the air base prepared to furlough 650 civilian workers and reduce all areas of training. Later in the month the Pentagon postponed the furloughs.

• Suspect sane for trial: Bryce Allen, 48, who drove around emergency vehicles and struck and killed a firefighter and seriously wounded a police officer in March 2012 was declared fit to stand trial for first-degree murder charges.

• Pool wrecks center: Cabot requested bids to replace the community center’s roof that deteriorated making it unsafe after the dehumidification system for the indoor pool didn’t work. Repairs were expected to cost $700,000.

• Star of “The Voice” visits: Cody Belew, a contestant on the popular TV show, came home to perform for Beebe High School’s Project Graduation. He is a 2003 Beebe High graduate.

• Drink up: State Sen. Jane English and others introduce a bill to the Legislature that would allow cities like Jacksonville and Sherwood to vote to allow alcohol sales in dry areas if enough residents petition for a special election. Sherwood is about 50 percent dry and Jacksonville is 90 percent dry.

• Lumbering on: Whit Davis, with three central Arkansas locations including Jacksonville and Cabot, marked its 60th year in business in March.

• Senior centers struggle: Federal and state budget cuts caused concerns for senior centers and their programs. Because of a projected five-percent federal cut, 24,000 fewer meals were expected to be delivered in central Arkansas.

• Happy birthday, Sherwood: City officials and groups used March to prepare activities for the city’s 65th anniversary on April 22.

• Random drug tests: The Austin City Council requires random drug testing for paid and unpaid city workers.

• Flood buyout: Sherwood votes to use general fund money to pay its portion of a FEMA program to buy homes in the city that repeatedly flood.

• Lonoke limelight: The Lonoke School Board members toured the $9.3 million Cox Center, a 54,000 square –foot multipurpose facility, as it neared completion.

• Jacksonville School District: Details are released about facilities and operating cost for a new school district.

• The Pulaski County Special School District said it would give Jacksonville 12 substandard campuses (two are already closed) and seven of the campuses are so bad the sate has recommended closing or replacing them. A study showed it would cost about $37.2 million to run the district annually, but it would get $38.5 million in revenue.