Friday, February 06, 2015

TOP STORY >> Mother’s mold story unravels after arrest

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville mother accused of killing her toddler, who died in July from ingesting a narcotic usually prescribed to terminally ill patients, was released Friday from the Pulaski County jail on a $100,000 bond.

Jessica Rollins, 23, was arrested Tuesday. She is charged with the first-degree murder of 2-year-old Ka’Marion Hughes and introducing a controlled substance — Oxymorphone — into the body of another person.

According to the affidavit released by Jacksonville police Tuesday evening, there is evidence that Ka’Marion consumed one pill. But just one, it states, can be fatal — especially for children.

Rollins also has a 7-month-old daughter.

The Children and Family Services Division under the Arkansas Department of Human Services took custody of the baby Nov. 3.

Her mother tested positive for cocaine, marijuana and Oxycodone on Nov. 3 after she was questioned following the results of Hughes’ autopsy, according to the affidavit.

It also states that Rollins admitted to using cocaine, marijuana and a prescription drug that didn’t belong to her on Oct. 28.

Rollins was living in North Little Rock last week, according to a police report, but she was a tenant of Willow Bend Apartments on Marshall Road in Jacksonville when her son passed away suddenly.

The incident caused a stir because Hughes and a 2-month-old living at the same complex died within three days of each other.

No details were provided in a police report about the infant, but Hughes’ preliminary cause of death was respiratory arrest.

Rollins spoke to television media, but The Leader was unsuccessful in its attempts to contact her. Both she and the boy’s father, Marquese Hughes, suggested mold could be to blame.

The city’s code enforcement officers inspected the complex following media coverage of the deaths, but they didn’t find any mold — at least not in any of the usual places it would be that were spot-checked.

Rollins later informed television stations that she had been evicted for not paying rent. She said she thought the management had agreed to let her pay double the next month because her son’s funeral costs had caused financial strain.

Willow Bend is privately owned but houses low-income families who qualify for rental assistance through HUD, which received about a dozen complaints after television media interviewed Rollins and other tenants.

Management denied the mold allegations and all were awaiting autopsy results when The Leader covered the tragedy last summer.

Rollins was informed on Oct. 29 that her son had died from the drug overdose.

A voice stress analysis exam taken that day indicated Rollins might have been deceptive when she told police she didn’t know who gave the medicine to the toddler.

When the mother was first asked about pills or medication kept in the house, the affidavit stated she said there was over-the-counter medication in the apartment but that it was mostly children’s medication.

At first, Rollins denied ever having Oxymorphone in the apartment. After the exam, the mother told police she had found a pill and thrown it in the trash the day before her son died.

Marquese Hughes said he had been watching and playing with the toddler that day. His son was “fine jumping around” before Rollins came home from work at 8 p.m. during her lunch break, the father told police.

Marquese Hughes said he took a break from watching the kids and played a game while Rollins was home on her break.

The father admitted that he “did pop” Ka’Marion’s leg when the toddler, who was naked because he was starting to potty train, started jumping on a friend who was visiting.

Marquese said the 2-year-old seemed “thrown” after that and started lying limply on the couch at 9:30 p.m. But the father told police he just thought the boy was sleepy.

Both parents said Rollins came home from work in the early morning hours and put the kids to bed. The mother told police Ka’Marion felt warm and that she thought she would take him to the doctor if he was still warm in the morning.

Marquese Hughes discovered that his son wasn’t breathing when he returned around 5 a.m. from visiting a friend at another Willow Bend apartment.

The toddler was given CPR and rushed to North Metro Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 6:20 a.m.

The affidavit not only describes the July 26 incident but also details the parents’ Nov. 25 and Jan. 23 supervised visits with their 7-month-old daughter.

It reads that Rollins told a DHS caseworker during the first visit that the baby would get sick if not given cough medication.

Both parents were told to not bring any medication or food for their child.

During the second visit, a bottle that appeared to contain over-the-counter medication fell out of Marquese Hughes’ pocket. The parents were told again not to bring medication to the visits.

The baby was taken to the emergency room for an evaluation after the second visit, but no injuries were found, according to the affidavit.

It also states that Marquese Hughes left with the bottle but later turned it into the caseworker, who gave it to a police detective for identification.

DHS Communications Manager Amy Webb provided the following information on what happens when the agency takes custody of a child.

“We always try to find a relative who could provide care (the child may still be in foster care, but the relative will be the foster parent),” she wrote in an email to The Leader.

“If that’s not possible — or possible immediately — we find a foster family to provide a safe, stable and loving home.

“When a child is in our custody, our goal is always reunification with the parent — if it is safe to do so. We work with the family and develop a case plan with the goal of reunification.

“However, in some instances, it would not be safe to reunify the child and parent. In those cases, we will move to terminate parental rights so that the child can be adopted.”

TOP STORY >> Tax cut signed, option passes

Leader senior staff writer

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed SB6, his $100 million middle-class tax-cut bill, into law Friday as Act 22 of 2015.

“It was a great day for hardworking Arkansas families,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy), who was lead sponsor for the bill. “I’m glad to be part of delivering that tax cut.”

SB101, an $8 billion appropriation for the Department of Human Services — about $1.6 billion of that to fund private option for the next fiscal year — also passed its final hurdle. The House passed it Thursday and it was forwarded to the governor for his signature.

Both houses have passed SB96, the governor’s Health Care Reform Act of 2015, with the Senate yet to approve an amendment adding House sponsors to the bill.

The tax bill cuts the tax rate by 1 percent for Arkansans earning between $21,000 and $75,000 a year.

“I want to thank the legislators for their diligent work in passing this tax cut for working Arkansans,” Hutchinson said in a news release. “I am especially grateful to the leadership of both houses for their efforts on this bill. They truly did the work of the people — and the people of Arkansas will benefit.

“This is an encouraging first step in making Arkansas’ income-tax rates more competitive with surrounding states, which will only enhance our reputation as a state that is eager to attract and accommodate new jobs and businesses.

“Arkansas has been an island of high taxation for too long, and I’m pleased that we are doing something about that,” Hutchinson said.

The tax-cut bill passed the Senate 31-2, with Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) voting against it, and by 95-2 in the House.

The House, with the support of nearly all local lawmakers, passed the two pieces of the Governor’s health care reform plan, previously passed by the Senate, Friday.

“The vote in the House (Thursday) on the Health Reform Task Force bill and accompanying appropriation was a bipartisan effort and represents the right step forward as we seek ways to best reform Medicaid in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.

State Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin), hoping for appointment to the Medicaid reform task force it creates, spoke at length in favor of SB96, the Health Care Reform Act of 2015, in the House Thursday.

The bill also calls for continuation of private option through Dec. 31, 2016.

The bill, which needed only 51 votes, was approved 80-16, with Donnie Copeland (R-Little Rock), among the lawmakers who voted against it. Copeland’s district includes a sliver of Sherwood.

The bill, which passed in the Senate 27-7, still needs Senate approval of a house amendment that added cosponsors to the bill.

Dismang, and Sen. Eddie Joe Wil-liams (R-Cabot) were among 15 Senate sponsors.

Local representatives among the 22 cosponsoring the bill included Farrer, Jeremy Gillam, (R-Judsonia), Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) and Tim Lemons (R-Cabot).

State Rep. Kelley Linck (R-Flippin), lead sponsor of the bill, said that prior to private option, hospitals were required to provide uncompensated care and that, on short notice, private option seemed the best way to comply with Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

“People have to take care of themselves,” Linck said. “We’ve got to have a healthier Arkansas before we can afford a system. This ends the debate and moves us forward into a new conversation.”

He called the hybrid system known as private option “the most debated topic since secession” from the union.

“It gives us an opportunity to change a broken system that has cost us billions of dollars,” said Farrer, who then gave a brief summary of the seven sections of the Health Care Reform Act under consideration.

Calling it a comprise bill, he said “it creates rules and a purpose. It develops an Arkansas plan, limits federal regulations and promotes healthy behavior and personal responsibility.”

Farrer said it allows the state to apply for block grants and waivers to design a program that fits Arkansas.

“It ends private option in December 2016, allows us to design a program that fits Arkansans and saves Arkansas $3 billion.”

“Most important,” Farrer said Friday, “it gets rid of Medicaid expansion and lets us reform the entire Medicaid system” in the state.

“We are carrying on the good work of the 89th General Assembly,” said Johnson, speaking for the bill. “This bill not only takes care of the health care needs of Arkansans, but of hospitals, and it’s affordable.”

Copeland, speaking against the bill, said that it didn’t technically repeal the Health Care Reform Act of 2013, and he had tried earlier to substitute a bill of his own, which did not get out of committee.

SB101, which funded the Department of Human Services and private option through the next fiscal year, passed the House 82-16, and was sent Thursday to the governor for his signature.

The bill appropriates about $8 billion to DHS, about $2 billion of that for the Division of Medical Services, and about three-quarters of that for private option.

As an appropriation bill, it needed a supermajority — 75 votes. Copeland was among those voting against it.

TOP STORY >> Recognition at last

Leader staff writer

Second World War veteran William Barnett of Beebe received war medals 73 years after serving in the Army.

The 92-year-old was a radio operator with the 32nd Infantry Division. He was in New Guinea and the Philippines helping to inform soldiers where Japanese fighters were coming from.

“When I was discharged in 1945, I did not get my medals. Three years ago, I wanted to get them. I put my life on the line for two and half years. I felt like I deserved it,” Barnett said.

He called Arkansas lawmakers in Washing-ton and said Sen. John Boozman was instrumental in getting his medals, when the Army did not help him. Boozman was able to get enough information from Barnett’s discharge papers to get the medals.

“William Barnett is a true hero. He rightfully deserves the honor of receiving the medals he earned for his service and sacrifice in World War II. I am proud to recognize his military service and happy to play a role in getting him the medals he deserves for his efforts to protect our nation’s ideals during such a trying time in our history,” Boozman said.

Barnett was presented his medals by retired Lt. Col. Steve Gray, a member of Boozman’s staff, during a ceremony in November at the Floyd United Methodist Church.

Barnett received an Asian Pacific Campaign medal with four bronze campaign stars and a bronze arrowhead, a Philippines Liberation medal with a bronze star, a World War II victory medal, a Good Conduct medal and a marksmanship medal.

Barnett was 20 when he was drafted into the war in October 1942. He was on the USS President Johnson, a troop ship that traveled along the islands of New Guinea.

“We didn’t have a convoy, just an escort, a French gunboat. We would zigzag to keep the Japanese submarines from popping up and blowing us up out of the water,” Barnett said.

On the islands, the radar unit followed the infantry on the beaches and jungles, he said. They sent information to headquarters to let troops intercept Japanese aircraft. Barnett said they were able to track the Japanese 150 miles out.

“It was deathly hot. The living conditions were tough. You don’t get fat on Army rations,” Barnett said.

While the Allies were landing at Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, Barnett was landing on the beaches of New Guinea in a LST vessel. He said there was a lot of fighting even though he was in a noncombat company.

The unit was moved in November 1944 to battle the Japanese in the Philippines.

Barnett was at a movie theater in the Philippines on Aug. 14, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered. He said the film abruptly stopped, as if the reel had broken. Then, over the speakers, they said the war was over.

“That was a celebration,” Barnett said.

Barnett was born on May 4, 1922, in Romance. His parents were farmers. Barnett had eight brothers and six sisters. He graduated from Floyd High School, but was drafted in October 1942 before receiving his diploma at age 20.

He explained, “A lot of times, we couldn’t go to school because the weather was too bad. We had no buses and had to walk to school.”

Barnett returned to Arkansas after the war in December. He met his wife, Mary, on a blind date and they married six weeks later on Jan. 19, 1946. They have been married for 69 years and have three children.

He continued his education on the GI Bill, attending Draughon School of Business in Little Rock.

He went on to work 29 years for Kroger as a warehouse fruit and vegetable inspector. Barnett retired in 1980 and moved to Floyd. He helped establish the Floyd Volunteer Fire Department and retired from there in 2002, after 20 years.

He and his wife moved to Beebe 12 years ago to be near their daughter, who takes care of them.

SPORTS STORY >> Red Panthers defeat Whirlwinds at home

Leader sports editor

With the high school teams taking a week off, Cabot Red freshmen teams took center stage Thursday, hosting Russellville in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference matchup at Cabot Junior High South.

The ninth-grade Panthers and Lady Panthers picked up a boys’ and girls’ split with the Whirlwinds. The Lady Panthers suffered a 23-18 loss while the boys dominated the fourth quarter to win 28-18.

Defense dominated the first quarter of the boys’ game, especially Cabot’s defense. The Panthers (12-9, 4-2) and Whirlwinds each had just four total possessions.

The Panthers managed buckets on two of their possessions while the Whirlwinds went 0 for 7 from the floor, leaving Cabot with a 4-0 lead at the end of the frame.

Neither team scored for nearly two minutes of the second quarter before Russellville finally got on the scoreboard with 4:22 left until halftime. The two teams then traded buckets before Cabot point guard Landon Vaught drove baseline for a layup and was fouled. The free throw made it 9-4 with 2:16 remaining.

Russellville’s ensuing possession was a long one, lasting almost 90 seconds, during which the Whirlwinds got three attempts from the floor and four free throws, missing them all.

After another empty possession for each team, Cabot’s Jared Vance was fouled in the act of shooting just before the buzzer, and sank two free throws to send Cabot into the locker room with an 11-4 lead.

Russellville’s shooting woes ended in the third quarter, at least for a while. The Whirlwinds scored eight-straight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to take a 12-11 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter.

After a timeout by Cabot coach Ron Tucker, Noah Allgood got a putback of a Vance miss from outside to put the Panthers back in front. That was the last bucket by either team for nearly three minutes before Russellville’s Gunner Howerton became the third Whirlwind to hit a 3-pointer in the period with 48 seconds left in the third.

At the other end, Drake Robertson penetrated and dished to Vaught for a layup at the buzzer to tie the game going into the fourth quarter.

Tucker told his players during the break between quarters that the final frame would be theirs. Besides an initial 3-pointer by Ryan Talley, he was right. Talley’s long ball gave Russellville (11-10, 3-3) an 18-15 lead with 5:23 left in the game, but they were the last points the visitors would score. The Panthers closed the game with a 13-0 run, starting just seconds after Talley’s shot when Vance hit from outside to tie the game.

Vance became as much of a force on defense as offense. He got a steal on the next possession and scored on a mid range jumper. He then deflected a swing pass at the top of the key. Vaught caught the deflection and was fouled while shooting the transition layup. He made both foul shots for a four-point Cabot lead.

Howerton then sailed his skip pass over the Cabot defense and the Russellville bench for a turnover. Allgood exacted the price for the turnover with an old-fashioned 3-point play for a 25-18 lead.

With less than two minutes remaining, Russellville was forced to begin fouling and Cabot hit 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch to set the final margin.

Vance finished with a game-high 11 points while Vaught scored seven. Allgood finished with six points and Robertson four for the Panthers.

The Lady Panthers played evenly with the Lady Whirlwinds in the second and fourth quarters. The two teams each scored five points in the second quarter and 10 in the fourth, but Cabot managed just three total points combined in the first and third.

The Lady Panthers (4-17, 1-4) got just one field goal in the first quarter and just a free throw in the third, while Russellville scored four points in each frame.

Cabot’s Allison Laney warmed up and scored six-straight points in the fourth quarter, but so did Russellville’s Samantha Looper. Each time Cabot climbed to within a one-possession margin, Looper drained a 3-pointer for Russellville (11-10, 3-3).

Laney’s six points in the fourth were enough to lead the Lady Panthers. Leslie Roberts and Olivia Alcantara scored three apiece for Cabot. Looper led Russellville with eight.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devil lives rebounding

Leader sports editor

Tragic, and unexpected life changes often force people to make important decisions they are not ready to make. Such was the case for Jacksonville senior basketball player Jerika Lynn Hardaway.

From the time of her parents divorce at 12-years old, until Oct. 26 of last year, Hardaway’s home life was just she and her mother. But in early October of 2014, her mother, Mable Hardaway, told her she was dying, and four weeks later was gone. Jerika was alone, 17 years old and left to make some of the most important decisions of her life.

Her options were to move in with her older brother in Little Rock, or stay in Jacksonville and move in with her father, whom she’d had little relationship with in recent years.

Wanting to finish school and her basketball career as a Red Devil, she chose to move in with her father, and it’s been a blessed decision.

“It was a very hard transition because I had not had much of a relationship with him,” Hardaway said. “Me and my mom were real close, it was just the two of us.”

Making responsible decisions wasn’t new for Hardaway. When her mother told Hardaway that she was dying, the news was tragic, but not a complete shock. She had been ill with liver disease for many years, and Hardaway was her primary caretaker. On top of that, she went to school, participated in extra curriculars of basketball and ROTC and held down a steady job at the Burger King in Sherwood.

She still does all those things, only this year; she does them even better than before. She was an average student through high school, but has made all A’s and B’s in her senior year. She has also stepped up her game on the basketball court.

JHS head coach William Rountree calls her the hardest worker on the team, but you don’t have to take his word for it. You just have to watch the Lady Red Devils play. At around 5-foot-5, smaller than many guards in the league, Hardaway, who doesn’t have great ball handling or shooting skills, battles inside and averages almost 15 rebounds per game.

“It used to be something that just happened because I was playing hard,” Hardaway said of her rebounding totals. “But now, I like rebounding. When the ball goes up in the air, I just have that mindset that it’s mine.”

Hardaway, along with all the other Lady Red Devils, went through a transition when Rountree took over the program last season. It was a transition some players struggled with. He brought an entirely different coaching style than what players were used to. But Jerika flourished.

“I liked that when he got there it was a clean slate and everybody got a chance to prove themselves,” she said. “Some of the players didn’t like him too much. He didn’t really change the plays or style we play. He just yelled a lot. He’s going to yell regardless, but when we do what he says, things usually go pretty good. I like playing for him.”

Rountree also likes having her on his team, especially those rebounding totals and the maturity she brings to the team.

“That tells you what you need to know about Jerika right there,” said Rountree. “So much of rebounding is effort, and she goes so hard. For someone so undersized to be doing that, it tells you a lot about her as a person. She’s a determined young lady. It shows in her basketball stats and it shows off the court. She’s gone through a tremendous maturing process in the two years I’ve gotten to know her, and she’s been a pleasure to coach.”

And about that blessed decision; it wasn’t so much that Jerika made the right choice, but that her father, Jerry Hardaway, for whom Jerika is named, stepped up and made it the right choice.

When asked about the major life change of moving in with her father, the long pause and huge smile said everything anyone needs to know about how important a father is to a young lady. But she finally uttered a response.

“It’s gone real good,” she said. “I can say he’s been very supportive. He comes to all my games and he’s been a big support. It’s actually been real good. We’re a lot closer than we’ve ever been.”

Without the right skill set to play guard, and too small to play post in college, Hardaway knows her basketball career ends this season, but she’s prepared to make it as long of a season as possible, and prepared for when it’s over.

She likes working on cars. She’s in her second year of auto shop at JHS, and plans to enroll in Pulaski Tech’s automotive technician program.

For now, she’s still working hard and focused on having a great senior year. She still misses her mother, and there’s always a measure of guilt for feeling happy in light of such a loss. But Jerika made the right decisions, the responsible decisions, which are almost always the hard decisions. And she did it at a very young age. She’s still making the right decisions and behaving responsibly. As soon as last night’s game ended, she changed clothes and raced off to begin her shift at Burger King.

But she’s experienced a sort of role reversal from caretaker to being cared for, and there’s a lightness to her step now.

“I’m actually having fun,” she said. “I’m getting to know my teammates, my classmates, coach Rountree. It’s just fun.”

In other words, she’s done what only the hard-working, strong-minded do after tragedy. She rebounded.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits roll Ricebirds in second

Leader sportswriter

A close game turned into what later became a blowout in the second quarter, as Lonoke routed visiting Stuttgart 64-35 in Friday’s 4A-2 Conference game at the Gina Cox Center.

Lonoke led 8-7 at the end of the first quarter, but turned up the pressure, defensively, in the second, and got hot from the floor as well.

The Jackrabbits made just 3 of 10 shots from the floor in the first quarter, but made 9 of 12 in the second quarter. Stuttgart went 4 for 14 from the field in the first half. Lonoke had four different players combine to score those nine field goals in the second quarter, and the hosts forced six Stuttgart turnovers in the second quarter, while committing just two in that period.

The result of those statistics helped the Jackrabbits take a comfortable 30-13 lead into halftime.

“The way the game started, I told (Lonoke assistant) coach (Heath) Swinney at the end of the first quarter, we’ve got to come home to shoot worse,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell. “We’d been shooting pretty well on the road, and here we are at home and we kind of started off worse. But we’ve been handling that.

“We’ve been handling getting shots and getting shots in practice, getting game shots at game speed, and really working hard at that. You can see the results of that. It’s really starting to come together.

“That’s the result of the time that these guys are putting in. I’m excited for them. I know they’re excited. It was a good win.”

The second-quarter cushion the Rabbits built helped early in the third quarter, as the Ricebirds opened the second half with a 7-0 run, which trimmed the Lonoke lead to 30-20.

That was as close as Stuttgart would get to catching up with the Rabbits, however, as the hosts pushed their lead to 15 by the end of the third quarter, leading 43-28.

Twelve seconds into the fourth quarter, Lonoke’s Brenton Bryant scored on a short jumper off the glass, which pushed the Rabbit lead to 45-28. Lonoke furthered its lead to 20-plus with 5:16 to play on a putback by Yancy Cooney, making the score 53-32.

With 1:42 remaining, Lonoke reached 60 points on a 3-pointer by Cooney, giving Lonoke a 25-point lead with the score 60-35. The Jackrabbits’ lead reached 29 by game’s end on another Cooney putback – this one setting the final score.

Cooney didn’t play until late in the game, but played well when he got his chance in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds in that time. It was something Campbell was pleased to see.

“He’s been coming along,” Campbell said of Cooney. “We’ve been working with him on trying to be stronger with the ball. He’s a kid that loves it. He loves to play, loves to compete, and works his tail off each and every day like all of them do. But I’m excited for him.”

Lonoke finished the game 25 of 47 from the floor for 53 percent. Stuttgart made 14 of 31 shot attempts for 45 percent. From the free-throw line, the Jackrabbits made 9 of 12 attempts for 75 percent.

The Ricebirds made 5 of 18 shots from the stripe for 28 percent.

The Jackrabbits also won the rebounding and turnover categories. Lonoke doubled Stuttgart’s rebounding total, 26-13, and the hosts committed eight turnovers to the Ricebirds’ total of 13.

Jawaun Bryant led all scorers with 17 points. Two other Lonoke players scored in double figures Friday. Tyler Spencer scored 13 points, and Brenton Bryant scored 11. David Andrews led Stuttgart (5-14, 4-8) with eight points.

Lonoke (9-11, 6-7) was off last night, but will resume 4A-2 Conference play this Friday night with a home game against Central Arkansas Christian. That game will tip off after the girls’ game, which starts at 6 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS girls win, boys lose third straight

Leader sports editor

The Jackson-ville Lady Red Devils stayed on pace with an easy road win while the boys’ continued their slide down the conference standings at J.A. Fair on Friday. The Jacksonville girls had a huge second quarter en route to a 73-32 victory while the boys lost their third-straight game 66-62 to the Eagles.

The Lady Devils enjoyed balanced scoring in the victory, something they have strived for in recent games. Four players finished in double figures.

“That’s something we’ve needed,” said Jacksonville girls’ coach William Rountree. “We’ve been seeing improvement in that area little by little. We’re definitely going to need it down the road. We’ve got an interesting conference race shaping up so we’ll need to be better than we’ve been.”

Jacksonville jumped out to a 19-9 lead in the first quarter, and then blew the game open by outscoring its host 28-6 in the second quarter. Rountree kept his starters in the game for just a couple of minutes in the third quarter before emptying the bench the rest of the way.

“We did what we needed to do,” Rountree said. “Fair’s not very good, but we didn’t have a letdown. We got a lot of people a good amount of playing time and we need the experience for our younger players. So it was a good game for us.”

Senior guard Antrice McCoy led Jacksonville with 18 points. Sophomore guard Alexis James added 15. Junior guard Desiree Williams scored 15 and sophomore Taylor Toombs scored 10.

The Lady Devils (11-8, 6-2) and the rest of the 5A-Central Conference took Tuesday off. They will return to play on Friday at home against Beebe. Jacksonville, Beebe and Sylvan Hills finished the first round robin in a three-way tie for second place. All three won on Friday and all three are now 6-2 in league play.

“We’ve got a big one coming up,” Rountree said. “Right now it’s a perfect triangle. Last time we went over there and jumped on them early and played really well. We can’t assume that’s going to happen again. Since then we lost to Sylvan Hills and they beat them. So we need to be ready to play.”

The Jacksonville boys appeared on their way to another smooth victory after two quarters of play. The Red Devils held Fair’s star guard Jerrick Cole scoreless in the first quarter and to just six points in the first half as they built a 33-24 lead at the break. That all changed when almost everyone for Jacksonville went scoreless in the third while Cole heated up.

Cole and teammate Kevon Bryant combined for five 3-pointers in the third quarter while Jacksonville could muster just one basket and four points. The Red Devils committed seven turnovers in the third, and compounding that problem, when shots were taken, they were almost always off the mark. Fair outscored Jacksonville 21-4 and took a 45-37 lead into the final frame.

The nine-point lead was gone within two minutes of the third as Cole started the period with a pair of 3-pointers while Kris Bankston added a bucket and free throw. Jacksonville went three possessions with attempting a basket, committing three turnovers, and also missed a dunk and a point-blank layup after a steal by Devin Campbell.

“They didn’t change a thing and we didn’t change a thing from what we were doing in the first half,” said Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner. “We just didn’t play any defense in the second half and we had some people disappear on offense. Defense is something we haven’t been doing with focus all year. Defense is something you take with you from practice, and this group don’t practice hard, but for about 30 or 40 minutes. That’s about all the focus I can get out of these guys.”

Campbell and point guard Tyree Appleby combined for 21 of Jacksonville’s 25 fourth-quarter points, but Cole always had an answer at the other end. Appleby scored 11 of his team high 18 in the fourth while Campbell scored 10 of his 14 in the final period. LaQuawn Smith was the only other Red Devil in double figures with 11.

Cole led all scorers with 32 while Bryant added 11 for the War Eagles.

The game’s results put Jacksonville (16-5, 5-3) in a tie for third place with Fair. Each team is three games behind first-place McClellan (8-0) and two behind second-place Mills (7-1).

The team had a long meeting after Friday’s loss, and Joyner hopes it will have a positive impact.

“I’m tired of screaming and yelling,” Joyner said. “We hopefully put a lot of negative things in the trash, and I just told them it’s time they take the reins. We coaches, we’ve done all we can do. It’s on them from here on out. I’m still going to work my butt off breaking down film, putting together game plans and showing them the best way to win basketball games. After that, it’s on them; to take it seriously, work hard, work as a team and just go out and do it.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers earn first conference win

Special to The Leader

The Cabot Panthers led by 12 points at halftime Friday night at home against the Searcy Lions, but saw the lead slip to three in the third quarter before coming back strong in the final quarter for a big 55-42 7A/6A-East Conference victory.

The Panthers are now 1-6 in conference play and 11-8 overall. Searcy remains winless in the conference and is 6-13 overall.

“We needed that,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries. I feel like we’ve been getting better. The scores may not show that with some of the people we play, but I really thought this team was getting better, because if you had seen us at Christmas, this is about a new team. This group is getting better, and we needed a win tonight. I just thought it was a great team effort. I thought we had decent balance, better than what we’ve been getting. It was a good win for us.”

Searcy got on the scoreboard first and led 4-0 before Hunter Southerland hit a 2-point basket for Cabot. Justice Cunningham gave the Lions a 6-2 lead, but Logan Gilbertson hit a two and Southerland a three from the wing to give the Panthers a 7-6 advantage.

Cabot did not trail again in the game, as it went on to lead 15-9 at the end of the first quarter with another 2-pointer by Gilbertson, a dunk by Jared Dixon, a layup by Bobby Joe Duncan, and a 2-point basket from the free-throw line by Southerland after he recovered a long offensive rebound.

The Panthers were hot from beyond the arc in the second quarter as they connected on four 3-point baskets. Duncan hit the first to open the scoring in the quarter, Southerland added two more, and Parker Childress the last to give Cabot a 29-17 lead. Each team added a free throw for the 30-18 halftime score.

The third quarter was the only one lost by the Panthers on the evening. Six turnovers by the home team helped the Lions to outscore Cabot 17-11 in the quarter, and the lead was narrowed to three at one point.

Southerland hit a pair of free throws, then a 2-pointer under the basket on an assist by Duncan to give the Panthers a 35-27 edge. Cunningham answered with a three for the Lions, but Phillip Wynne was fouled as he hit a 2-pointer under the basket and added the free throw for the old fashioned 3-point play, upping the Cabot lead to 38-30.

Cunningham struck again with another three, then James Wade a steal and score for five-straight points for Searcy to cut the lead to 38-35. That was as close as the Lions could get, though, as Wynne hit a three for Cabot to give him six points in the quarter and the Panthers a 41-35 lead at the end of three quarters of play.

The fourth quarter was much better for the Panthers, as they outscored Searcy 14-7, including 6 of 7 from the free-throw line. Cabot was shooting the double bonus, and the Lions were forced to foul to gain possession. Tyler Hill had four points in the quarter as well as Southerland, and Gilbertson contributed a traditional 3-point play on an offensive rebound putback and the free throw. Dixon added a final free throw to round out the final margin at 55-42.

“I was proud of our fourth quarter,” said Bridges. “I thought we regrouped, settled down, and we finished it strong.”

Southerland led the scoring for Cabot with 23 points, Duncan was next with nine, Gilbertson had seven points and Wynne six.

Cunningham led Searcy with 14 points, and Wade added 11 to the effort.

The Panthers were 11 of 15 from the free-throw stripe, while only allowing the Lions to go to the line eight times by committing only 10 team fouls the entire game. Searcy sank six of the eight.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke ladies pull away to beat Stuttgart

Leader sportswriter

After a close first half, the Lonoke girls took over the second half of their 4A-2 Conference game against Stuttgart on Friday at the Gina Cox Center, eventually winning by the convincing final score of 50-31.

Lonoke leading scorer Jarrelyn McCall scored the first two buckets of the game to give the Lady Jackrabbits an early 4-0 lead, but the Lady Ricebirds closed the gap to two by the end of the first quarter, with Lonoke leading 7-5.

Both teams had a better quarter, offensively, in the second quarter, and Lady Ricebird guard Shacara Humbert kept the visitors in the game with 10 points in that period. At halftime, Lonoke held a narrow 20-19 lead.

McCall and company came out of the second half on fire, as the Lady Rabbits opened the third quarter with a 14-0 run, which quickly pushed their lead to double digits with the score 34-19.

McCall scored eight of those points. Point guard Kerasha Johnson had four points during the run, and Eboni Willis had two. Lonoke was so hot from the floor that the fire alarm went off with 2:43 left in the third, with the score still at 34-19.

Play was briefly halted, and shortly after play resumed, Stuttgart scored its first points of the quarter on an inbounds pass from underneath the goal.

Lonoke, however, responded and pushed its lead to 17 before Humbert sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that cut the Lady Rabbits’ lead to 38-24 at the end of the third quarter.

Lonoke’s lead grew to as much as 22 in the fourth quarter. McCall got an and-1 with 2:45 left to play, which made the score 48-26. Each team added a basket before Lonoke coach Nathan Morris emptied his bench with 1:36 remaining, which helped Stuttgart close the gap to 19 by game’s end.

“We came out and we played a little better in the second half,” said Morris. “They’re a streaky team, too, and we were able to jump on them. I didn’t know how things were going to go out of the delay, and sure enough, they score off the inbounds. We didn’t do a very good job there, but we did look a little better.

“We defended, got some rebounds. I still want us to block out a little bit better and get the ball, but we played much better in the second half.”

McCall scored nearly half of Lonoke’s points Friday. She finished the game with 24 points, leading all scorers. Teammates Willis and Amanda Sexton each scored 11 points for Lonoke, and Johnson scored four.

Humbert was the only Lady Ricebird to score in double figures. She accounted for more than half of her team’s point total for the night, finishing with 16 points.

With the win, the Lady Jackrabbits’ record improved to 11-11 overall and 5-8 in 4A-2 Conference play. Stuttgart’s record dropped to 5-14 overall, and the Lady Ricebirds remain winless in league play.

The Lady Rabbits were off yesterday, but they’ll resume conference play Friday at home against Central Arkansas Christian (20-2), who’s ranked No. 2 in Class 4A. The Lady Mustangs knocked off previously unbeaten Riverview last Friday, which moved them to the No. 2 spot in the latest rankings behind top-ranked Ozark.

Tip-off for Friday’s game is at 6 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot indoor wins ASU

Leader sports editor

The Cabot girls’ indoor track team won the Arkansas State University High School Invitational last weekend. The meet consisted of just eight teams, but several traditionally strong programs, and the narrow point margin among the top three showed it. Cabot scored 70 points to edge out Lake Hamilton’s 68 and Bryant’s 67. Vilonia scored 21 and Heber Springs 13 to round out the top five.

Several Cabot school records went down during the meet, too, including two new records involving freshmen. Tristan Edgar took first place and set a school record in the 55-meter dash, recording a time of 7.71, barely beating out Bryant’s Jadyn Lewis’ 7.73. Edgar and fellow freshman Jenny Bond competed with seniors Lexi and Tori Weeks on the first-place and record-setting 4x400-meter relay team that finished in 4:01.90.

The Weeks twins also set school indoor records in the pole vault, each clearing 13-feet, 9-inches and tying for first place. They are also the highest indoor vaults in the state, but state records can only be set at state meets.

Tori Weeks also set the school record in the long jump, breaking Lauren Young’s old record of 16-11 by eight inches and winning the competition by 7.5 inches over Conway’s Connie Weatherly.

“We didn’t have the twins do too much,” said Cabot coach Leon White. “I don’t know if everyone else was at full strength, but we weren’t able to bring everybody. But I was very pleased with our freshmen that competed for us. We’re going to move them up, a lot of them, and have them compete for us on varsity outdoor this year. It’s a pretty talented group.”

Cabot freshman Casey Gore didn’t set a record, but she did win the mile with a time of 5:41.43, narrowly edging Conway’s Lauran Campbell by 1.4 seconds.

Junior Samantha Nickell hauled in eight points for Cabot with a second-place finish in the two-mile race, while Gore finished sixth in that event for three points.

Junior Katie Wright finished tied for fourth in the high jump by clearing 4-10, and finished third in the shot put with a toss of 29-3.

The state indoor track championships are this Saturday at the University of Arkansas.

EDITORIAL >> Chamber sets a big agenda

Roger Sundermeier, the new president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, has a plan for reviving the city’s often dormant downtown. During his inaugural speech last week at the chamber’s annual banquet, Sundermeier announced the formation of a small-business initiative to support local businesses. He said Jacksonville needs a good mix of retail chains and restaurants and locally owned businesses.

He also announced a new movie program, called “Flicks on Bricks,” which will show outdoor movies at the Nixon library amphitheater starting this summer. He said “Red Tails,” a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, will be among the movies shown. Milton Crenshaw of Little Rock, one of the last living Tuskegee airmen, will be invited, Sundermeier said.

He said a Christmas movie will be shown after the city’s Christmas parade. For Halloween, the chamber plans to sponsor a trunk or treat in the library’s parking lot.

Sundermeier and Daniel Gray, the outgoing chamber president, both sounded optimistic in their speeches last week, even more upbeat than you would expect at a chamber function. Both noted that voters overwhelmingly approved of forming a new Jacksonville School District, an alcohol initiative that needs 1,415 more signatures and could go before the voters in early spring, as well as other improvements going on right now and just over the horizon.

It’s good to see a new generation stepping into leadership positions at the chamber. The chamber dinner was the most upbeat we’ve seen in a quarter of a century.

The message from the speakers was also one of optimism. Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, predicted economic growth for the state, which means more jobs and prosperity.

It was an inspiring evening and a good way to start 2015. Expect more good news this year.

EDITORIAL >> Construction all around us

The $107 million runway renovation on Little Rock Air Force Base is one of the major construction projects in our community — the first major overhaul of the flightline in 60 years.

The new runway will be 12,000 feet long, the same length as the old one, and 150 feet wide, 50 feet narrower than the existing runway.

The first phase of the project gets underway this month, mostly ground preparation and utility work. Phase 2 is expected to begin in April and includes demolition of half the flightline.

The runway construction should do the job for at least another 50 years.

The $200 million widening of Hwy. 67/167 between Cabot and Jacksonville is continuing, although the state Highway Department has reversed the second and third phases of the project.

Widening of the highway between the north end of the new Main Street overpass and the south end of the Vandenberg overpass in Jacksonville was to have been let for bids in 2017.

But, because of the involved relocation of utilities and acquisition of right of way, that bid will be let in April 2019 instead.

To keep the project moving, phase three, between Vandenberg Boulevard and Hwy. 5, originally set for bids in 2019, will be let in September 2017 instead.

In other words, “the projects have been flip-flopped.”

The Hwy. 67/167 project is one of the most expensive since the construction of the I-430/I-630 interchange in Little Rock, which is nearing completion at a cost of $125 million.

Hwy. 67/167 is more than 50 years old and needed an overhaul at least a generation ago. The highway has been widened from McCain Boulevard to Redmond Road and is continuing all the way to Cabot. An economic renaissance awaits the communities along the highway.

TOP STORY >> Habitat for Humanity wall raising

Leader staff writer

Habitat for Humanity of Lonoke and Pulaski counties on Saturday raised the walls of its newest under-construction home at 400 W. Cherry St. in Cabot.

More than 100 volunteers came out to start building the three-bedroom, two-bath single-story house that should be completed by March.

Habitat for Humanity has partnered with Arkansas Federal Credit Union, Telcoe Federal Credit Union and an anonymous donor to pay for the project.

The future homebuyer is dental assistant Crystal Meeks, a single mother of three. She lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her daughter, Kaylee Vent, 14, and sons, Frank Vent, 12, and Adrian Vent, 11.

Meeks put herself through dental-assistant school at Eastern College of Health Vocations, graduating in 2006. Along with a full-time job, she works a second job at a convenience store on the weekends. The family had to move from a house into an apartment for nearly two years after a divorce.

Meeks will be able to purchase the $80,000 home with a no-interest 20- to 25- year loan from Habitat for Humanity. Her mortgage payments will be around $400 a month.

“I’m not homeless, and I am not needy. It is cost-efficient living. I still have to make house payments and insurance. It helps a single mother with one income supporting the household,” Meeks said.

She said her aunt told her about Habitat for Humanity, and she also heard about it on the radio. “It has been an awesome experience. I’m able to meet one of my goals in life. I always wanted a house. I hesitated to call,” Meeks said.

She was able to pick out the flooring and countertops for her new home. And her children will once again have a yard to run around in.

Meeks applied to the program at the end of May and found out she was accepted in July. Habitat for Humanity selects families based on income, credit score, need, which is based on their current living situation, and the willingness to be a partner.

Meeks has to put in 250 hours of “sweat” equity. She has been working on her house, other Habitat for Humanity projects and at the Habitat ReStore — outlet stores in Little Rock and North Little Rock that sell donated building supplies, working appliances, home furnishings and light fixtures. The money raised at ReStore goes toward future Habitat homes and revitalization projects.

The walls to Meeks’ house went up fast, as they were prefabricated at Habitat for Humanity’s warehouse in Little Rock. Habitat homes are built from designated floor plans.

According to volunteer coordinator Ginni Bracy, building crews will be working on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to complete the house by March.

The property owner donated the land for Meeks’ home to Habitat for Humanity, which doesn’t buy land that costs more than $5,000. There had been a house on the property before, but it burned.

Meeks’ house is the fifth Habitat home built in Cabot. The Christian housing ministry has built or restored more than 150 homes for local families.

Bill Plunkett, chief executive officer of Pulaski County Habitat for Humanity, said, “We are looking to build more houses in the Cabot area.” He said the organization is interested in land near Meeks’ home, to build a Habitat neighborhood.

The organization marks its 25th anniversary this year.

For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Lonoke and Pulaski counties or to sign up to participate on a volunteer crew, visit or call 501-376-4434.

TOP STORY >> Students make a killing in stock market

Leader staff writer

Three groups of students recently made a killing in the stock market.

They turned a solid profit of $100,000 on an imaginary portfolio and collected medallions and cash at a luncheon sponsored by Economics Arkansas at Verizon arena.

A team from Warren Dupree Elementary in Jacksonville took first in Region 5, adding about $10,000 to their portfolio in less than 10 weeks. A group of students from Lonoke Middle School finished second in the same region.

Both teams were among 140 elementary school division teams participating in the region.

And a pair of students from Beebe Middle took second place in that division for Region 4, competing against 63 teams.

The Warren Dupree team of four – Steven Garry, Bianca Johnson, Ja’Paris Galmore and A’leah Williams — shared the first-place prize of $100.

The Lonoke team of Kendall DePriest, Meadow Lake, Spencer Pepper, Mary Roland and Blake Solee shared a second-place prize of $50, as did the Beebe team of Rainey Brittain and Laiya Freeman.

Winning teams in the elementary, middle and high school divisions from six state regions were honored at the banquet.

According to the state coordinator for the Stock Market Game, Marsha Masters, more than 4,000 students participated in this round of the game. Another round is starting, and she expects about 5,000 state students to participate. “We always get more in the spring,” Masters said.

For Warren Dupree, it was the second time in three semesters that the school had a first place team in the competition. It also won the region in the winter of 2013.

“When we started the stock market game, I did not know a thing about it, but, when we started our discussions, research and looking for just the right stocks, all of a sudden I knew a lot,” said Warren Dupree student Ja’Paris Galmore.

Her classmate, A’leah Williams, added, “We learned to think with our heads and not our hearts. We found Apple, which had great numbers and helped us a lot. But we also bought Facebook because all of us like getting on it. But it didn’t do as well. It was a heart pick, instead of a head pick.”

The third girl on the team, Bianca Johnson, said, “We found six stocks. Four were definitely good and two were so-so. Our teacher told us not to buy the so-so stocks. Luckily, we didn’t listen to him and took first.”

The only fellow on the Warren Dupree team was Steven Garry. He said, “Our team name was the Divas and the Dude. I was the dude. As the only guy, I just stood back and supervised and it worked.”

According to Lonoke’s teacher and team adviser Pam Chandler, it was the first time Lonoke students had played the game. They had a lot of fun learning, so the school has already signed up to play the next round, she said.

Spencer Pepper was the CEO of the Lonoke team of five fifth graders that turned a tidy profit of about $8,000.

He said he enjoyed getting to learn about the stock market. The rest of his teammates agreed that Pepper would be the one most likely to become a stockbroker or invest heavily in real life because of the game experience.

“I liked the research,” teammate Mary Roland said.

Teammate Meadow Lake agreed. “It was fun and informative to keep the graphs and charts,” she said.

Blake Solee, also on the Lonoke team, said it increased his math skills.

Another teammate, Kendall DePriest, called the whole roller-coaster feel of the game “real life and it was crazy.”

The team was first on the morning of the last day, but their stocks settled lower that afternoon and the Warren Dupree team overtook them.

Lydia Brumfield, the teacher and team advisor for the Beebe team, said, “Before this economics unit, my students knew nearly nothing about the stock market. They were interested to learn that their money could be invested in companies they know and love. Throughout this process, the students’ skills and knowledge increased in the areas of economics, personal finance, technology, math, critical thinking and teamwork.”

Brumfield added, “Throughout our lessons, activities and playing of the Stock Market Game, the students are now able to identify reasons for saving and investing, explain the importance of investing to build wealth and meet financial goals and compare and contrast methods of saving and investing. They are able to decipher between public and private companies, read stock charts, name the sector, identify the ticker symbol, recognize the brands owned by a company, take into consideration the analyst’s opinions, consider the risk rating and make a decision as to whether they think a stock would be a wise investment or not.”

At Beebe, there was a secondary offshoot of the game as part of their economics unit. “It helped students through the process of starting their own business and giving them the opportunity to bring it to life at the Beebe Marketplace, set up in our cafeteria during parent/teacher conferences.

“Many lessons were learned through this real life experience. After the event, students had to pay back their loan, booth lease and advertising fee. Then they got to keep their profits, ranging anywhere from $6 to $410. Several students told me that they would like to talk with their parents about investing their profits, instead of spending it all.”

TOP STORY >> In switch, Farrer for a private option bill

Leader senior staff writer

With the support of an unlikely co-sponsor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Health Care Reform Act of 2015 — that’s SB96 — passed out of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor subcommittee on a voice vote Tuesday morning and could face a House vote Thursday, where it needs only 51 votes to pass.

Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin), who staunchly opposed the private option in 2012 and 2013, co-sponsored this bill in the House with Public Health, Welfare and Labor Chair Kelley Linck (R-Flippin).

The bill would guarantee private option, Arkansas’ innovative solution to Medicaid expansion, through Dec. 31, 2016, and would create a 16-person legislative task force, along with new Surgeon General, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, to study alternatives to end private option, continue it or continue it with changes intended to make it more efficient and cost effective.

In his private option address, Hutchinson called on the task force to have recommendations by the end of 2015.

Farrer has said he’d vote to reauthorize private option through 2016 while the task force works to realign Arkansas health care.


Farrer said he would also support SB101, which funds the Department of Human Services to the tune of $8 billion, the Division of Medical Services for $2 billion of that, and, under it, private option — about $1.5 billion.

As an appropriation, SB101 bill needed a supermajority, three-quarters of the 35 senators. It needed 27 votes and got 29.

In the House, it will need 75 votes, but the Republican-dominated House and Senate seem to have little stomach or enthusiasm for opposing a popular new Republican governor not even a month in office.

There are about 25 co-sponsors of the Health Care Reform Bill of 2015 in the House, but Farrer said Tuesday he and Linck were the primary sponsors.


He said he had not been promised a spot on the task force for his support, but he has talked with the speaker and the Senate president pro tempore about his interest in being appointed. He also said he thought his position as a Medicaid provider at North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville would be beneficial.

“Two years ago, I tried to stop it,” he said. “I said it was too expensive, and we couldn’t afford it, and I was right.”

Farrer said it would take so long to end the private option, including the appeals process, that it was more practical to support the governor’s plan.

“I want to provide health care,” he said, “not health care insurance.

“I want to reform the Medicaid system,” he said. “That’s what we should have done first.

“We’ve got to fix the system to where the hospitals and providers can survive.

“To me, it ends the private option the way it should be ended. It doesn’t kick everyone off. We’ll come up with a plan that meets Arkansas’ needs.

“This gives us a task force to fix the plan,” he said. “You can’t put another system on top of a broken one and make it work.

“I’m pushing to get on the task force,” he said.


Area lawmakers could play a large role in drafting those recommendations. Both Senate President Pro tempore Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) will be on the task force and each will appoint six other members.

Both have supported private option in the past, and Dismang was a primary architect of it.

In addition, Jim Hendren, as Senate majority leader, and Senate minority leader Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis), will be on the task force.

House Majority Leader Ken Bragg (R-Sheridan) and Minority Leader Eddie Arm-strong (D-North Little Rock) will be on the task force, too.