Monday, December 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> 2013 IN REVIEW: Sizzling summer news

(Editor’s note: This is the third of a five-part series looking back at 2013. It was compiled by Leader staff writer Rick Kron.)

Sizzling sunshine, school stories, sequestration and shootings shuffled us into September. The sunshine brought drought and concerns about crops. Stories about test scores and school security abounded, along with shootings. And federal budget cuts caused by sequestration looked to strain the economy.


• Best of the best: Leader reporter Sarah Campbell is named Young Reporter of the Year by the Arkansas Press Association, and The Leader won 31 awards, including best large weekly for the sixth-straight year.

• Larger library: Sherwood once again talked about building a new, larger library with a temporary sales tax that would generate $7 million to build the facility. The city has not yet sent the measure to voters.

• Taking a toll: Metroplan said it would wait for a feasibility study on paying for the North Belt with a toll road before deciding its next move on the long-delayed project.

• Wind protection: Cabot applied for a $1.2 million grant to build a tornado shelter as part of a new addition to the community center.

• Signing on: Supporters of a new, independent Jacksonville school district gathered enough signatures to present their petition to the state Board of Education. They asked the board to request that the federal judge allow an election on breaking away from the Pulaski County Special School District. The state accepted the petition.

• Competency questioned: Jeanne R. Rollf, who was charged in the beating death of a Cabot man, challenged the state’s decision that she was competent to stand trial for murder. Her three codefendants pleaded guilty to various charges in the killing.

• Karma comes around: Bill Barnes came out of retirement to take the job as Jacksonville High School principal, which he applied for but was turned down for 29 years ago.

• Buying park land: Cabot continued to work out the details on 50 acres it wanted to buy for a $13.5 million sports complex and water park.

• First round: In what turned out to be the first round in getting the proposed veterans’ home in Jacksonville, the chamber turned in a proposal offering up to 60 acres. But 35 other cities also sent in proposals.

• Murderer sentenced: Davion Howard, 20, of Jacksonville was given a 35-year prison sentence for his part in the shooting death of a female clerk at a North Little Rock convenience store during a robbery. She gave him and three others the store’s money before she was killed.

• Wireless education: The Lonoke School Board spent $31,000 to provide its elementary and middle school students wireless Internet access.

• New car dealership: The Cabot City Council approved rezoning the hill at the entrance to Sun Terrace subdivision across from Walmart to allow Excel Ford to build a new dealership. Some residents said they were worried about traffic problems.

• Sizzling sun: Farmers felt the effects of a drought that hit the state and increased the cost of irrigation.

• Hit-and-run death: Kyisha Durham of North Little Rock was charged with negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident after she struck and killed a 3-year-old at a Sherwood apartment complex.

• Backing booze: The Jacksonville City Council supported the effort to get signatures for a special election that would allow residents to decide if the 90 percent of the city that is dry should be allowed to sell alcohol.

• New chamber director: Kelly Coughlin, who was working as the economic director for the Sherwood chamber, was hired to head the Cabot Chamber of Commerce. She was dismissed from the new post in late October.

• Literacy lacking: Scores from the annual state-required literacy test showed that more than half (56 percent) of juniors at Jacksonville High School could not read or write at grade level. At North Pulaski High School, just 57 percent passed the test.

• Plea deal: Christopher Reynolds, the Ward man accused of shooting and killing an employee, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

• Walmart opens: A 150,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter opened in Beebe, and other stores have inquired about building or opening nearby, according to the Beebe Chamber of Commerce.

• Math magicians: Middle school and junior high students in Lonoke, Cabot, Searcy and Northwood score very well on the state’s annual Algebra I end-of-course test.

• Accused killer competent: Bryce Allen, 47, of Jacksonville was declared competent to stand trial for murder. He allegedly drove into three first responders, killing one firefighter, while they were responding to a car accident involving Allen’s mother on Hwy. 161. His mother ran into a ditch and hit a gas main, but she wasn’t injured.


• Mayor tries to heal split: Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and the chamber of commerce have been at odds since he was elected, but he put that behind him and apologized to the chamber, saying the wet/dry issue would not pass if the division continued.

• Inspecting itself: The 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base became the first Air Mobility Command unit to implement a new self-inspection program.

• PCSSD chief said yes: During a Jacksonville City Council meeting Jerry Guess, interim superintendent for the Pulaski County Special School District, reasserted his support of the city’s desire to break away and form its own district.

• C-130 reductions: As the military looked at ways to save $1 trillion over the next 10 years, reducing the number of C-130s was suggested as a cost-saving measure, but no immediate action was taken.

• Justice of the peace dies: Lonoke County JP Charles Evans died from a fast-growing brain tumor just seven months after being re-elected the quorum court.

• Safer schools: PCSSD and the Cabot School District beefed up security by adding personnel and preparing emergency plans in the wake of recent school shootings across the country.

• Pro-liquor side speaks: The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and the city explained at a town-hall meeting the reasons behind their decision to pursue a vote on alcohol sales. But not everyone saw or agreed with their point of view.

• More ammunition: Remington broke ground in Lonoke for a $32 million expansion that will allow the company to increase its production of ammunition, which was already at 40 million rounds per week.

• Math skills falter: Annual Benchmark exams for third through fifth graders showed that most states in the area are having more problems with math than literacy as about 25 percent of local students scored below basic in math.

• New Jacksonville school: The Lighthouse Charter School opened its new $8.7 million College Preparatory Academy, a two-story high school facility.

Lawsuit in deaths: Furlandare Singleton, the father of four children who died in a 2012 HUD apartment fire in Jacksonville sued the city for $5 million, claiming it was negligent. Firefighters did not detect fire at the home when they first arrived. The bodies were discovered hours later.

• McRae’s new school: The Beebe School District opened its new $4.5 million, two-story, 30,000-square-foot middle school in McRae.

• Deadly party: A Jacksonville man was shot and killed dead and another was injured during a birthday party in Jacksonville turned violent. Two partygoers were quickly arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

• County, city swap: Pulaski County had promised to help with the parking lot for the new sports-shooting range, but those funds were restricted so it will finish the $250,000 West Main Street roundabout and the city will divert money to construct the shooting range parking lot.

• Jacksonville site visit: Members of the panel responsible for choosing a site for a new veterans’ home visited Jacksonville and were pleased with what they saw and heard. But the applications were thrown out and all cities had to resubmit new proposals by December, which Jacksonville did.

• Income vs. outcome: An independent audit showed that for the second year in a row Jacksonville’s expenses exceeded revenues, and the city had to dip into its reserves to insure no services were cut.

• New planes: Air Force Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward flew in the first of five new C-130Js that will be assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base.

• High-voltage reward: The FBI offered a $20,000 reward for the arrest of the person who intentionally sabotaged power lines and damaged a transmission tower in Cabot. Jason Woodring, 37, of Furlow was arrested in October but no reward was given.

• Sherwood sippers: The Sherwood City Council passed an ordinance supporting the chamber’s effort to bring about a vote on whether to turn the 50 percent of the city that is dry to wet.

• Hospital pains: North Metro Medical Center’s chief executive officer, Cindy Stafford, said the hospital would not close despite facing budget problems.


• Closed school leased: The Pulaski Country Special School District agreed to lease the closed Jacksonville Elementary School property to the city for $1 a year. Much of the facility will be town down. Some community members have supported the idea of creating an arts center there.

• Cabot school spurt: Work continued on Cabot’s new $26 million Freshman Academy set to open for the 2014-15 school year.

• Outsiders meddling: Anti-alcohol groups from Jonesboro, Pea Ridge and Tupelo, Miss., mailed postcards warning Jacksonville residents of rising crime if a wet vote goes through, but the crime figures, which the police chief disputed did not pertain to Jacksonville.

• North vs. South: Reed’s Bridge Civil War Battlefield came alive as the 1863 battle was re-enacted — with the same results.

• Grant blown down: A $1.2 million grant that Cabot wanted to apply for was unavailable so the city applied for a $300,000 grant instead to build a tornado shelter saferoom.

• Roundtop restoration: Efforts were successful in obtaining $25,000 to match a $50,000 state grant to restore the old Roundtop gas station in Sherwood.

• Advisory board: Even though PCSSD is still under state control, an advisory board was set up to get more local input as the district plans for its release state control.

• Range misses target: The Jacksonville mayor and the city’s parks and recreation director announced in September that the $3.2 million sports shooting range should open in mid-October. But, by late December, it still had not opened. A grand opening is set for later this month. (See story on page 1A.)

• New VA sites: After all proposals were scrapped by the state Department of Veterans Affairs, Jacksonville bounces back with two other possible sites that made the final four selected in late December by a state task force. A final decision is expected too be made later this month.

• Chamber confusion: A grassroots group upset with the way the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce was being operated filed to start another chamber group in the city but was told by the Secretary of State it could not have “chamber” in its name.

• Unsafe bridge: The Jacksonville City Council spent $22,000 to repair a bridge on Loop Road that had been damaged by heavy traffic.

• Death trap: The Lonoke County Quorum Court listened to residents’ concerns about South Rockwood Road. They called it a death trap and asked for safety improvements.

• Another PCSSD defection: Sherwood made it clear, with the formation of a committee headed by a former PCSSD deputy superintendent and another former district administrator, that it also wanted to detach from the Little Rock-based school district. A feasibility study was requested.

• Obamacare signups start: State insurance firms geared up to assist Arkansas as the Oct. 1 signup date for the state’s private option Medicaid expansion loomed. Up to 500,000 Arkansans were eligible to sign up.

• FBI crime stats: The latest figures released by the FBI show that Austin was the safest city in the area to live while Jacksonville was nine times more dangerous.

• Record budget: The Cabot School Board passed a record $74 million budget for the 2013-14 school year, up $1.26 million from the previous year.