Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TOP STORY >> Top 10 news stories of the year

Compiled by RICK KRON

(Editor’s note: This is the last in a four-part series looking back at 2014 as reported in The Leader.)

In 2014, The Leader published 104 issues containing more than 1,000 pages of news with stories that ranged from the ordinary to the extraordinary. These 10 topics, presented here in no particular order, are highlights of the most important news of the year as determined by the newspaper staff.


Probably the biggest piece of news for 2014 is that Jacksonville now has its own school district, a 40-year dream and fight for the city. Although still tethered to Pulaski County Special School District, the new district is on the move to becoming its own full-fledged operating district within the next two years.

The formation of the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, which was a Top 10 story of 2013, hit a fever pitch in mid-January. And the momentum never slowed down. By December, a school board had been picked, an interim superintendent selected and a couple of board meetings held.

An election to see if residents would support the newly proposed district made that a reality in the middle of January after a fairness hearing in which U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. overruled all objections and accepted the proposed desegregation agreement crafted by officials and attorneys for the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts, the state Education Department and the Joshua Intervenors, a group of black PCSSD students and parents.

This opened the door for the Jacksonville district.

“It’s a great day for the kids in Jacksonville,” Daniel Gray, spokesman for the group seeking the new district, said in January after Marshall accepted the negotiated desegregation agreement.

City administrator Jim Durham said, “This is the best news I’ve heard about this town bar none.

“I can see Jacksonville rivaling Cabot with our schools,” Durham said, “and a demand for new housing.”

The court settlement ends desegregation payments from the state to the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts after the 2017-18 school year.

Currently, the state pays those districts about $65 million a year, a total of about $1.2 billion since payments began, according to Deputy Attorney General Scott Richardson.

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess, whom Marshall quoted or cited several times during his own remarks before approving the agreement, called the Jacksonville detachment “a win-win situation.”

PCSSD is high on the state wealth index, meaning it would receive almost no state matching funds to build or fix schools, while Jacksonville is much lower and the state would contribute 50 percent to 60 percent of that cost for qualifying buildings.

That means a $90 million building program to bring area schools into the 21stCentury would cost the new district only about $45 million, with the state picking up the balance.

The 2014-15 school year would be transitional and Jacksonville-North Pulaski will hopefully be independent by the 2015-16 school year. But it may take another year, as assets and debt would have to be equitably divided between the two districts. Other questions needing to be answered, for instance, are who gets which school buses and how many? How will teachers and staff be hired or divided? How much of the remaining desegregation money from the state will go to a new district?

In September, residents voted overwhelmingly — 95 percent — for the new district. The final vote was 3,767-218 in favor the new district.

Jerry Guess, PCSSD superintendent, said he was happy for Jacksonville. “I supported this idea for a long time,” Guess told The Leader. “It will be a great benefit to Jacksonville in the long run. A lot of details need to be worked out.”

The city took the vote results to the state and to the federal judge for final approval.

A panel of area officials and state lawmakers narrowed down the list of 52 possible school board candidates to seven. Norris Cain, Daniel Gray, Ron McDaniel, Carol Miles, Richard Moss, Robert Price and LaConda Watson are the appointed interim board.

It took the state Board of Education less than 15 minutes in early November, after the judge’s approval, to unanimously create the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District and approve the seven-member interim school board.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher compared the seven appointed board members to the original seven U.S. astronauts, saying, “This is our space program.”

The state board’s order also stipulated that the new district would continue under the administration of PCSSD during a transition period of up to two years, with all revenues continuing to accrue to PCSSD, which would also bear all costs.

The interim board quickly agreed to hire former PCSSD superintendent Bobby Lester to be the district’s interim leader and to work closely with state- appointed PCSSD superintendent Guess on separating the districts.

With the formation of the new district, Little Rock Air Force Base officials said it would make 20 acres available for a new elementary school to replace the decrepit Arnold Drive Elementary already on the base and possibly Tolleson Elementary, just outside the base, as well as the use of another 300 acres if the new district wants to build a new high school campus north of the current North Pulaski High School.


Besides the historic Jacksonville district vote in September, the November election had all five area mayors on the hot seat battling challengers and a tax issue on the Sherwood ballots as to whether or not to approve a tax for a new library.

All mayors won re-election and Sherwood approved the tax for the library.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher defeated former Police Chief Gary Sipes and Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman withstood a challenge from two other candidates, Don Berry and Doris Anderson. Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert beat back a challenge by one-time mayor Mickey (Stubby) Stumbaugh; Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee is getting another term, just getting past Jim Bailey, and Ward Mayor Art Brooke got another term.

In Jacksonville, the race between incumbent Fletcher and his former police chief was one of the closest in decades — 56 percent to 44 percent – and the topics of the gun range, economic development and transparency left the city divided. Even though the candidates themselves were never disrespectful toward each other, their supporters were — from name calling to threats.

Once the election ended, there was apparent fallout as the city cut ties with its longtime out-of-state economic developer. And three civil service commissioners were told to resign because they were active participants in the election. Two commissioners were Sipes supporters and one was a Fletcher supporter. Two have since resigned from the commission.

Many of the races in Lonoke, Cabot and Lonoke County were decided in the May primaries, as was one alderman race in Jacksonville.


The year will go down in the history books as one of the top five coldest years. Icy, snowy weather in January and February caused area schools to be out more days than they had been in decades.

Plus a vicious tornado skirted The Leader’s coverage area, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Summer was one of the coolest on record. Normally, there are 30 days between June 1 and Aug. 30 where the temperature hits 95 degrees or more. But, in 2014, just eight days hit that mark in the local area. Jacksonville recorded its lowest low-temperature average in history in July at 66.1. The summer was also 5 inches wetter than normal.

January gave warning signs to a cool year as a “polar vortex” settled into the region.

The polar blast and freezing wind plummeted low temperatures into the single digits, causing power outages and water pipes to freeze and burst.

Beebe experienced the most outages in The Leader’s coverage area, with close to 2,000 customers in the dark.

Electric companies weren’t the only ones working overtime during the unusually cold weather.

Charles Culpepper of Master Plumbing in Jacksonville said, “Water pipes have been freezing and busting.” At a time of the year when business is usually slow, Culpepper said he was getting lots of calls about frozen and burst pipes.

Snow and ice in February closed schools and caused numerous wrecks.

Then winter hit again in early March during National Severe Weather Week.

The storms brought lightening, thunder, rain, freezing rain, hail, sleet, ice, snow and cold, cold winds to the area.

The mess caused officials to cancel school in Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties.

The high temperature of 27 degrees the first Monday in March was the lowest high ever recorded in March, breaking a record of 30 degrees from 1965.

A National Weather Service-trained storm spotter broadcasted over the Central Arkansas Radio Emergency Network that there were “bodies everywhere” after a late April tornado struck Vilonia, Mayflower and El Paso.

Two of the 11 dead in Vilonia were young boys who had recently moved from Sherwood to Vilonia. “They were very active in our baseball program,” Sherwood Alderman Tim McMinn said at a council meeting after the tornadoes hit, asking for prayers and help for the family.

The young boys were Cameron and Tyler Smith, ages 8 and 7, respectively. They lived on Cody Lane in Vilonia. Sanders said the boys’ parents, Daniel and April, were severely injured in the tornado and were taken to different hospitals in Little Rock.

According to officials, the family followed all the proper emergency procedures. “They were hunkered down, but there is nothing left of their home except a concrete slab,” said a family friend.

Overall, the tornado killed 15 Arkansans. Eleven people died in Faulkner County. There were three fatalities in Pulaski County and one in El Paso.

According to a preliminary report released by the National Weather Service, the devastating tornado was at least an EF4, meaning it had 166-200 mph winds.

President Barack Obama flew into LRAFB. He is the first president since Bill Clinton to visit the storm-damaged areas.

In July, the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office and others were honored and praised for their response and help in the aftermath of the tornado.

For the year, 20 tornadoes hit the state, killing 17. Four died from high winds and two from lightning strikes.


The air base always makes the Top 10 list on the strength of its economic impact to central Arkansas. In 2014, that impact was just shy of $1 billion. But there is so much more to the base: the people, the missions, new planes, new commanders and new construction.

In March, word was that the base was strengthening its position as the primary C-130 base in the world, with many older C-130s from around the country either decommissioned or reassigned at LRAFB and 10 more state-of-the-art C-130Js once slated for Pope Field at Fort Bragg, N.C., set to come to LRAFB.

Those C-130Js, currently assigned to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, were headed for Pope. But now it appears they will be assigned to the 22nd Air Force, Detachment 1, a reserve force being activated at Little Rock, according Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

“Ten aircraft are enough for a squadron,” Pryor said. “This is breaking news.

“Little Rock is a center of excellence on (C-130 transport), and, if it holds with 10 additional C-130Js, that’s a very good thing,” the senator said.

“My sense is that someone at the Pentagon looked and said the most efficient thing is to base those planes at Little Rock,” Pryor said.

Military officials said early in the year that active duty LRAFB pilots might be flying only the state-of-the-art C-130Js by the end of September and the Pentagon had restarted the previously discontinued program to modernize the legacy C-130Hs with new, digital avionics, communications and navigation equipment.

Little Rock Air Force Base had about 85 C-130H/J models assigned to the base as of March 7.

“We have approximately 50 C-130H models and can confirm 31 C-130J models,” said Arlo Taylor, a public affairs spokesman. At the end of December, the number of C-130Js parked at the base numbered 36, and the H models were awaiting decommissioning.

With the arrival of the additional aircraft, replacement work was started on the base runway. Set to be finished in April 2017, the work will cost almost $108 million.

The runway is over 50 years old and is developing substantial amounts of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) potential, primarily from joint spalls and cracked slabs. The combination of the poor soils, high water table and keyway slab joints enable new problems to develop soon after repairs are made. The busy runway traffic, coupled with the underlying drainage issues, is the primary cause of the damage.

The 12,000-foot runway, which has been repeatedly patched over the years, will be replaced, half at a time, leaving the base with 6,000 feet to take off and land — twice the length required for C-130s.

The project will raise runway elevations and modify surrounding terrain features to minimize the number of airfield waivers and obstructions. It will resize the runway from 200-foot wide to 150-foot wide. However, the length will remain 12,000 feet. The project includes the replacement of associated runway lighting and navigational aids.

Base airmen flew in support of numerous missions during the year, including a Senegal mission to battle Ebola.

About 20 airmen and two C-130s deployed toward the end of the year to join the war on Ebola. They joined more airmen and C-130s from Dyess AFB, Texas, to establish the 787th Air Expeditionary Squadron and to fly humanitarian supplies into Liberia as part of Operation United Assistance, the mission to fight Ebola in West Africa. More LRAFB personnel are expected to join in the mission.

The 19th Airlift Wing was awarded, late in the year, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for exceptionally meritorious service from Aug. 1, 2012, through July 31, 2014.

The 19th AW is the world’s largest C-130 wing and base in the military and is comprised of four groups, 21 squadrons and 17 staff agencies.

“I am extremely proud of you, your hard work and all of the amazing things you accomplish every day,” said Col. Patrick Rhatigan, 19th Airlift Wing commander. “I’m thrilled that many outside of our organization have noticed your extraordinary efforts as well.”

About the only bad news to hit the base in 2014 was the announcement of no open house and air show this year, according to Lt. Amanda Porter, public affairs specialist.

“We will focus our efforts toward a 2015 open house and redouble our efforts to secure a major aerial demonstration team,” Porter said.

The Pentagon pared down the number of events significantly in light of new budget realities.

“A 2014 open house was proposed but never confirmed. The base only explored the possibility. However, there were no military aerial demonstration teams available us,” Porter said. “We are focusing our efforts toward a tentative 2015 open house.”


The Jacksonville $3.2 million shooting sports complex on 160 acres near Loop and Graham roads had a soft opening in January and was in full swing with a lot of fanfare by May.

But, by then, complaints had hit about the noise level, and some planned activities were canceled. A sound study was ordered, and it became a focal point in the mayoral election.

Arkansas leads the nation in shooting sports participants, thanks largely to the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program (AYSSP), which is an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission program. More than
7,000 students participate each year. Teams are made up of participants from public and private schools, 4-H and other community organizations.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation planned to use the range for activities and tournaments. The youth tournaments alone were expected to bring in more than $4 million annually to the area.

But the shooting sports complex postponed its newly formed shooting league in late March after receiving noise complaints from neighboring residents.

“It is like World War III broke loose. We’re not happy about it,” Bonnie Smith said.

During the first weekend of May, the range attracted 1,040 people who shot an estimated 52,000 rounds that brought in $20,000 to the city, according to Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Director Kevin House. But noise was still an issue.

Except for the noise complaints, the opening of the shooting complex has been as successful as the city hoped, according to Jim Durham, Jacksonville’s director of administration. “We brought in 1,040 families to our city. They stayed in our hotels, ate in our restaurants and learned about Jacksonville,” he said.

In response to complaints, the range had already canceled night shooting, which kept expensive stadium lights off.

But area homeowners are growing impatient. Brian Hagewood, who owns Southern Oaks Country Club in Fox-wood and also lives in Foxwood Estates, where homes are about a mile away from the complex’s shooting positions, was frustrated with the noise coming from the firing range.

“Our subdivision has completely changed because of the noise this range is creating. We invested a great deal of money to build on a five-acre lot in Foxwood Estates. We never in a million years thought the city would put a shooting range in our backyard,” he said.

Residents looked at possible lawsuits, but the law protects the city from suits over noise.

Former Police Chief Gary Sipes, who lives in the neighborhood complaining about the noises, filed to run for mayor with the noise as one of his issues.

To determine what could be done, the city hired a sound engineer in late June to conduct a $10,000 study. The engineer spent a day taking sound readings from seven locations and promised to have the study completed in about 10 days, but it was four months before the city got the report back showing that noises levels were within legal limits at all locations but the facility’s parking lot. The city is still looking at ways to dampen the noise in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Along with the noise, finances became an issue with many claiming the range was losing the city $250,000 that could have been spent elsewhere.

The complex was built with a mix of private and public dollars. The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation promised $2 million, but had only provided the city with $150,000 by mid-year. The city’s advertising and promotions commission had budgeted about $400,000 toward the project, and the city took out a $3 million short-term line of credit to cover the costs.

In November, the foundation vowed to completely pay off the promised $2 million, allowing the city to substantially pay down on its loan for the project.

By mid-October, the city’s finance department showed that the range had an actual profit of $550 through the end of August.

Laura Collie, the assistant finance director who reviewed all the figures, said, “Our figures are correct.” Former Jacksonville Finance Director Paul Mushrush also combed through the numbers and agreed.


Cabot passed a sales tax in 2014 to cover a multitude of major projects to be built in the next few years.

Sherwood saw numerous new businesses open up during the year, as did Beebe.

Jacksonville announced an $18 million medical center deal toward the end of the year.

In Cabot, the parks and recreation commission ap-proved the $5.3 million bid from CWR Construction in late May for the Cabot Sports Complex on Hwy. 321 and Allman/Bevis softball field.

The commission still has to bid out the water park, field lighting, parking lot and the concession stand.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the $13.5 million sports and aquatic complex off Hwy. 321 near Holland Bottoms Farm was held in late June. The $5.3 million sports complex is part of the overall project.

Parks Director John Crow said, “This facility will not only meet the immediate needs of the community, but also those of an area that will continue to grow as we improve our facilities and services around the city.”

The sports complex will have nine baseball fields, two football fields, playgrounds, batting cages, pavilions and a walking track, lighting and a concession stand. It will open in fall 2015.

The water park will have a four-lane swimming pool, a slide pool, a walk-in pool, a lazy winding river, a bathhouse, a concession stand and outdoor private party area. It should open in summer 2015.

Money for the ballpark and water park projects comes from the one-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2013. The tax also supports a $42 million bond issue for sewer improvements, a new freeway interchange, a new library and drainage work.

Sherwood saw its share of growth in 2014 with a medical call center bringing 250 new jobs, Ace Hardware and a Mapco service station and convenience opening up during the year. And a groundbreaking for Whit Davis lumber was held. Those are just some of the 14 economic projects that were finished or started in Sherwood in 2014.

There was also a new CVS Pharmacy, an animal hospital, Telcoe Federal Credit Union and Subway. Harps Food Stores announced it would open a new facility in Gravel Ridge.

Jacksonville city officials announced in October their plan to bring an $18 million medical complex to the city near North Metro.

Construction of a three-building outpatient ambulatory care campus across the street from North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville will start in 2015, according to Michael Arvin, managing director of Alliance Strategic Health Advisors.

The campus will be built on a vacant 9.25 acres with the potential of expanding to a maximum of 13 acres, he said. Construction could take between 12 and 16 months.

The preliminary plan includes a 30,000-square-foot specialty clinic that may cost $6 million; a 40,000- to 60,000-square foot medical office building with space for primary care physicians, specialty physicians, dentists, social workers, a pharmacy, therapy services and nutritionists that may cost $12 million; accommodations for outpatient services; and the ability to develop a freestanding outpatient surgery center that can deliver high-quality, same-day surgery.

Beebe is in the midst of a commercial building boom. The new Walmart is in full swing, and the city has received plans for a new AutoZone parts store.

The city has also received site plans for The Shoppes at Beebe. The shopping center will have a Dollar Tree, Hibbett Sports, a Pizza Hut WingStreet restaurant, a fitness center and other businesses.

And City Attorney Barrett Rogers is moving his law office to a new business complex on Dewitt Henry Drive. It will be home to the Beebe Flower Shop, Merle Norman cosmetic store and Sunset Breeze sandwich restaurant.

Another shopping center, Shadow Center, near the highway is planned, too. That deal closed in April.

“We are an excellent trade area with the population and access to all the highways. Retail and commercial developers are seeing that it’s beneficial to be here, and we are growing in housing too,” Mayor Mike Robertson said, adding that there are about 200 new homes in the works.


The Cabot School District’s newest building, the $22 million Freshman Academy for ninth graders, opened on Aug. 18 — the first day of school.

Many students who picked up their schedules with their parents were wide-eyed and opened-mouthed as they walked into the school.

The campus layout is similar to Cabot High School. It has four buildings with 73 classrooms, a meeting room, a media center with adjoining computer lab, a career, agriculture and construction center and a gym.

“The decision to develop a specialized program in a state- of-the-art facility for our freshmen will have a significant and very positive impact on many students for many years to come,” Thurman said.

There are Smart TVs connected to the Internet that can show a teacher’s computer desktop to students. The kids can show their work on the TVs while using tablets, iPads and Chromebook laptop computers.

North Pulaski High School Senior Jesse Ringgold was honored in February as one of the school’s first National Merit Scholarship finalists.

School counselor Debra Stanchak said Ringgold being a National Merit finalist gave North Pulaski High School a big sense of pride.

“It puts North Pulaski on the map. We’re proud of Jesse. He is a hard working kid. He is humble, easy going and extremely bright,” Stanchak said.

Senior Katie McGraw was a National Merit Scholarship finalist for Beebe High School. She is the second Beebe student to earn the achievement in three years.

School counselor Connie Sheren said, “We are proud. Katie is an excellent student. It is not something we have every year.”

Cabot High School had 10 National Merit Scholarship finalists, double the number from 2013.

Aaron Randolph, director of gifted and advance placement programs for the school district, said the 2014 National Merit finalists for Cabot was one of the largest groups in the past 12 years.

Cabot High School’s National Merit finalists are seniors Anna Applegate, Matthew Bilberry, Benjamin Brannon, Robert Brockel, Kyle Cox, Mark Howard, Grant Reed, Reid Simpson, Kegan Skinner and Caleb Southard.

On Jan. 10, area schools were awarded a total of $425,000 for excellence in student performance, academic growth and graduation rates (for high schools).

The Cabot School District had five schools receive monetary awards. Searcy had four, and Beebe had one.

Cabot Middle School North and its counterpart, Cabot Middle School South, were recognized for being in the top 10 percent of state schools in student performance and academic growth. Cabot North was awarded $77, 935, and Cabot South got $71,222.

Cabot’s Mountain Springs Elementary was also in the top 10 percent and received $39,083.

Two other Cabot schools finished in the top 20 percent. They were Cabot Junior High North, receiving $55, 231, and Magness Creek Elementary, getting $16,326.

Searcy had two schools in the top 10 percent and two schools in the top 20 percent.

Ahlf Junior High School and Westside elementary were in the top 10 percent, receiving $57,262 and $41,867, respectively.

In the top 20 percent were McRae Elementary with $20, 403 and Southwest Middle School with $46,188.

Beebe Elementary School was in the top 20 percent and received $17,980.

Overall, the state gave out about $7 million to more than 200 state schools.

According to results released in July, all the third graders at Stagecoach Elementary in Cabot scored proficient or advanced on the math portion of the state-mandated Benchmark exams given to third through eighth graders in April.

Those same third graders also blew past the state average in literacy with 93 percent of them scoring proficient or advanced.

Mountain Springs, Magness Creek and Northside, all in Cabot, also did well, along with third graders from England.

At the fourth grade level, Arnold Drive Elementary was on top in the Pulaski County Special School District and the area with a proficiency rate of 91 percent in math and 95 percent in literacy. Cabot’s Mountain Springs, Stagecoach, Northside and Southside also did well.

All the Arnold Drive Elementary fifth graders who took the literacy portion of the Benchmark exam scored advanced — one of the few groups of fifth graders in the state to do so.

Warren Dupree fifth graders jumped 30 points on the math portion, going from 39 percent proficient or advanced in 2013 to 69 percent this year, moving them above their district’s and the state average.

The sixth graders at Jacksonville Lighthouse’s Flightline Upper Academy did much better than state averages in both math and literacy, scoring 94 percent in math and 91 percent in literacy. Based on benchmark scores, the academy has been rated in the top 15 percent of middle schools in the state, according to schooldigger.com.

Cabot students also continue to do well with the fifth graders at Cabot Middle School South scoring 94 percent or better in literacy. Sixth graders at Cabot Middle School North had a 90 percent proficiency rate in math.


At Jacksonville Middle School, only about four out of 10 students scored proficient or better on the annual Benchmark exams. The school’s eighth graders were the worst in the Pulaski County Special School District with only 28 percent scoring proficient or advanced. Almost 40 percent of the students scored below basic.

Like Jacksonville, neither the seventh nor the eighth graders at England reached the state average.

In November, according to the state, all Jacksonville and Sherwood schools except two need improvement — some more than others.

The only two schools in the Jacksonville-Sherwood area to make achieving were the Jacksonville Lighthouse College Prep Academy and the Flightline Upper Academy.

The rest of the PCSSD campuses in Sherwood and Jacksonville ranked in the bottom three categories, and the district itself was rated as “needs improvement” by the state.

Oakbrooke, Arnold Drive, Pinewood, Cato, Sylvan Hills, Sherwood, Tolleson, Clinton, Warren Dupree and Bayou Meto (all elementary schools), Northwood, Sylvan Hills and Jacksonville middle schools and North Pulaski High School were listed as “needs improvement” schools.

Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter elementary and middle schools, along with Lisa Academy North’s elementary, middle and high school campuses, were also in the needs improvement category.

Jacksonville High School and Murrell Taylor Elementary were labeled “needs improvement focus” schools

Harris Elementary was listed as a “needs improvement priority” school.

According to the same rankings, Lonoke had no achieving schools and neither did Beebe. All Lonoke and Beebe schools need improvement, according to the state.

And so did every school in Searcy but one. Westside Elementary has been declared achieving by the state.

Cabot also had just one achieving school — only Southside Elementary.

The Leader was the first to report that a murderer who was serving a life sentence without parole was installing a wall mat at the Cabot Junior High North gym in September as part of a prison work-release program.

The killer, Glenn Martin Green, had been part of a factory and repair program at the Tucker Unit since 1990.

Green, 60, is a former Air Force sergeant who, in 1974, kidnapped 18-year-old Helen Lynette Spencer at Little Rock Air Force Base. Then he raped, tortured and killed her outside Jacksonville.

Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman confirmed that Green was working at the school gym.

“We purchase our safety mats for gyms from ACI (Arkansas Correctional Industries),” Thurman wrote in an email. “Evidently, most schools use ACI and we’ve used them in the past.”

Cabot has stopped the practice of allowing inmates to work on school property.


Large portions of both Sherwood and Jacksonville are considered “dry,” meaning no alcohol may be sold or served unless the business has a private club permit.

These dry areas are a result of township votes from about 60 years ago. About 50 percent of Sherwood and 90 percent of Jacksonville is dry.

Because the townships no longer exist, a state law was passed allowing for a new vote as long as 38 percent of the registered voters in the affected areas sign a petition to put the issue on the ballot. That worked out to about 4,200 signatures for Sherwood and 4,400 for Jacksonville.

A study by the University of Arkansas figures Sherwood is losing out on about $10 million a year in local sales because of its dry section.

Sherwood Chamber of Commerce executive director Marcia Cook said Kroger had considered building a store in the Gravel Ridge area several years ago but didn’t because it couldn’t sell alcohol there. The chain remodeled its store on JFK Boulevard in North Little Rock instead, she noted.

Sherwood and Jacksonville hired, through a shared contract, a firm to help gather the signatures it needed.

But Sherwood’s effort was put on hold as a state drive was started to allow alcohol sales and service anywhere in the state. The city halted its effort to not confuse voters and backed the state effort.

Enough signatures were collected to put the statewide measure on the November ballot. Jacksonville voters favored the proposed law in the general election, but statewide totals soundingly defeated it. In Sherwood, 51 percent voted against the statewide initiative.

Sherwood is still getting everything ready to move forward now, while Amy Mattison with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce told The Leader about 400 more signatures are needed to bring the issue to a local vote.


The area saw only two homicides in 2014. One in occurred in northern Pulaski County back in March, and the other one happened in Jacksonville less than two weeks ago.

Arthur Lockhart Jr., 35, was charged in the March stabbing death of Steven Thomas Miller, 28, outside The Hangar, a north Pulaski County bar.

Miller had supposedly refereed to Lockhart’s wife using the “n” word.

Lockhart and his wife, Tere Rowshell Lockhart, 35, were both charged with second-degree murder. Both have police records.

Two witnesses told police they saw Miller and Tere Lockhart arguing before the stabbing. Three witnesses said they saw Arthur Lockhart attack Miller.

One of the witnesses told police she saw Tere Lockhart push the victim’s face and hit him with heel of a boot she was holding.

There was blood on the boot when an officer found it, according to the report.

Miller was lying on the ground, unresponsive with a faint heartbeat and shallow breathing. According to the report, there were two puncture wounds in his abdomen and one puncture wound on the left side of his neck.

Miller was taken to North Metro Medical Center, where he died about an hour later.

The second incident occurred when an argument broke out among friends at a party.

Brandon Ethridge, 26, was shot Dec. 21 at a party on Noble Road that turned bad. Police responding to a “shots fired” call stopped a vehicle carrying the victim as the car was on its way to the hospital. Ethridge was taken via Med Flight to Baptist Hospital, where he was treated for multiple gunshot wounds and later died in surgery.

The shooter has been identified as Christopher Leggett, 27, of Jacksonville, but no charges have been filed as police are trying to determine if the shooting was a case of self-defense like some witnesses have said.

A local woman was killed in the summer of 2013, but arrests in that gruesome murder weren’t made until late January 2014.

Dennis Harrington, 42, the boyfriend of a woman reported missing from the Woodlawn area between Beebe and Lonoke was charged in January with capital murder and abuse of a corpse. The victim was 36-year-old Rebecca Lauer.

Harrington had been in prison for violating parole since he was arrested in September for kidnapping and domestic battery involving Lauer.

The warrant for his arrest on the latest charge showed that statements from witnesses and evidence collected at his home indicated that Harrington killed Lauer on the evening of July 21 and then, with the help of a friend, burned her body on a pile of tires behind his home.

His friend, Steve Boulanger, 37, was charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution and abuse of a corpse because he allegedly lied to law officials and helped to burn the body.