Wednesday, June 20, 2007

SPORTS>>Win streak in modifieds finally ends

Leader sportswriter

Defending modified track champion Randy Weaver finally put his Fox Racing F1 car back in victory lane on Friday at Beebe Speedway. The Big Show fell just short of a two-class sweep, finishing right behind Bryant’s Joe Long in the street stock feature before holding off a vicious charge from veteran Mike Bowers in the modified feature.

Street stock wins have come relatively easy for Weaver this season, with only a few competitors each week, but the modified class has not been so kind. The Fox team got their modified program back on track last week with a second-place run behind Patrick Linn, and Weaver won his heat on Friday to earn a third-place starting position for the feature.

For the first time in over a month, there would be a new winner in the modified class, as Little Rock’s Linn was not on hand to defend his four-race win streak. Robert Davis of Searcy earned top-qualifier for the feature by winning the first heat, With second heat winner Jeremy Kester lining up on the outside of the front row.

Whatever momentum Davis had with him in the heats was completely absent during the 20-lap feature. The 5 car of Davis fell back as soon as the green dropped, leaving Weaver to challenge Kester for the top spot.

Bowers would be the hard charger on the night. The North Little Rock driver started in the 12th position, but methodically picked his way through the elite field. Bowers made his way into the top five by lap 12, and worked his way right behind the leaders with three laps to go.

While Bowers made his march to the front, Weaver and Kester battled for the lead until lap 13, when Weaver finally got around Kester. Kester would then give way to Bowers on lap 17, but Weaver had just enough to hold off the 60 car of Bowers to take his first modified win of the season at Beebe.

Points leader Casey Findley took the fourth spot, and Heath Stevens of Vilonia rounded out the top five. Donnie Stringfellow finished sixth in his 88 machine, while Davis fell back to seventh by race’s end, along with eighth-place finisher Jayson Hefley, who also struggled in the feature after looking strong in the heats to earn a fourth-place starting spot.

“We kind of went back to the basics,” Weaver said after the win. “We’ve been struggling some, but I think we finally shook that monkey off our backs.” Weaver was also complimentary of the track prep for Friday’s show.

“The track was a lot better tonight than it has been,” Weaver said. “The top and the middle were both fast, and it was real smooth. The last few weeks has kind of been like follow the leader, but you could go high or low and find grip out there tonight.”

Archie Conway, Jr. continued his domination of the economy-modified class with a caution-shortened feature win on Friday. Conway picked up his eighth win of the year in the curiously diminishing class, taking advantage of early mechanical troubles for fast qualifier Jason Young.

Young led the first two laps in his F1 machine, but pulled off the track during a lap-two caution for a spin by Corey Dumas. Vilonia’s Monty King put up a decent challenge on Conway for the lead on a number of occasions, but frequent cautions denied King of a complete opportunity to finish the deal.

The final caution came out on lap 12, setting up a green white checker finish, giving King only two laps to get things done. He would not, and Conway upped his points lead with the win, forcing King to settle for second.

Ryan Redmon of Beebe finished third, while Robert Woodard and Austin’s Mark Wells recovered from an early incident to finish fourth and fifth respectively.

Tommy Puckett took the win in the hobby division after an early challenge from Jacksonville’s Mike McDougale. McDougale and Joe Hodge of Lonoke made it a three-car battle for the lead with Puckett in the early going, but mechanical problems for McDougale and handling problems for Hodge gave Puckett room to breathe in the late going, along with the five cautions that shortened the race from its scheduled 20 laps to only nine.

Stan Yingling took his second win of the year in the mini stock class. Yingling took advantage of a spin by leader Ricky Wooten to inherit the lead on lap seven, and he never looked back. The 140 car of Tim Arnold finished second, and Wooten recovered for a third-place finish.

Brandon Capps of Jacksonville took his second-straight factory stock win, and Stacy Lingo took the win in the powder puff race over Shorty Wofford and Sandra Griffin.

SPORTS>>Prathet kickboxer loses title matchup

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville’s Prathet Muay Thai dojo took a number of fighters to the 7 Flags Event Center in Des Moines, Iowa, for the Muay Thai Classic T.B.A. Open over the weekend. More than 100 fighters showed in all, with the 34 highest-ranked fighters squaring off in the evening’s main card in a 17-bout extravaganza that was shown on online pay-per-view.

One of the fighters in the headlining event was Jacksonville’s Kayla Oudthone. The 17-year-old Jacksonville High School senior came in with an 8-4 record in the girls division, and made her debut in the women’s division against Dubuque, Iowa’s Jerica Veach, representing Team Singto.

Veach, also 17, made her adult debut with a record of 6-4. Insiders gave Oudthone the slight advantage before the match, citing slightly more experience over Veach, and a three-inch reach advantage.

Both fighters came into the event with two IKF belts in their possession, but were fighting for the vacant TBA Ladies’ super welterweight belt.

Oudthone versus Veach was the 11th bout on the card. The two fighters took to the ring at around 9:50 p.m. Oudthone came straight into the ring alongside her trainer and dad, David Oudthone, and would fight out of the blue corner. Veach made her way to the ring after Oudthone, briefly stopping outside of the ring to meditate before entering.

The two would fight in three, two-minute rounds to decide the North American ladies’ super-welterweight championship.
The opening moments of the fight were simply feeling out, as the two were separated during an early tie up before both fighters scored on a dual-takedown. Veach then took the first advantage of the contest, putting Oudthone in the ropes and hitting her with a flurry of knees to the abdomen.

Unfortunately for Oudthone, the early attack by Veach was simply a sign of more things to come. Oudthone survived the initial attack, but was not able to put together a lot of offense of her own in the bout.

Veach went back to trying the knees on Oudthone to start the second round, but Oudthone tied up with her. Oudthone tried for a takedown, but Veach was able to block the attempts.

The action stayed inside for the most part. Veach did move outside long enough to land a kick-jab combo that briefly stunned Oudthone, who looked completely winded by the ladder stages of the second round. The round ended in a tie-up, but the two-minute frame undisputedly belonged to Veach.

The third round would also be all Veach, although Oudthone did score her biggest points of the night in the round with a takedown on Veach in the early stages of the final round after a flurry of punches from Veach to start out the frame.
Veach quickly recovered from the takedown, only to answer with another succession of knees to the stomach of Oudthone, resulting in a standing eight-count on Oudthone as the bout came to an end.

The domination in the match showed on the judges cards. All three judges scored the bout 30-26 in favor of Veach.
“It was kind of a disappointing trip,” said David Oudthone, Kayla’s father and trainer. “She was told early in the match that it was illegal to hook the leg. We thought it was a traditional rules Thai fight where hooking was allowed. The official told us after the fight that is was legal, but it threw Kayla’s whole strategy off for the match. She’s going to fight in Memphis in two weeks, so she’s looking to bounce back.”

Oudthone will take on Micah Duncan in an International rules IKF in preparation for the World tournament in Orlando, Florida later this summer.

SPORTS>>JSA camp coached by Major Leaguers

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Soccer Association had a very successful camp last week, with four European coaches representing Major League Soccer on hand for the five-day event.

A total of just over 50 kids came out for the camp, up from the JSA camp numbers last year. President Kimberly Rogers says the fact that Major League Soccer sponsors the camp makes a huge difference in not only the amount of kids that participate, but also in what they learned.

“I am absolutely sold on MLS,” Rogers said. “They send top-quality coaching; these guys are the best of the best. We’re growing. Part of it has been word of mouth, and the Major League Soccer name also adds interest, so we are hoping we can double our numbers for next year.”

London’s Ross Lafayette, a semi-pro player with the Chesham United team, led the group of coaches during the camp. Lafayette said that it’s not just the kids that have a good time, but the coaches as well.

“You basically get recruited and sent to the states,” Lafayette said. “We started out in the northeast, in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then we started in the south last week. The best thing about the camps is to see how much fun the kids have; it’s quite a lot”

Lafayette was joined by Jamie Collins of Whales, Dave Lefferty of Scotland and Dan Sherwood of England.

Friday was the final day for the camp. The kids were split into groups for a series of scrimmages that morning, and then celebrated the end of camp with a huge water fight that involved water guns, balloons, and basically anything that would hold water long enough to be dumped on someone’s head.

While the week was filled with fun and games, it will be back to business soon for Rogers and the JSA board, who are preparing for the upcoming registration and fall season.

The registration dates for the 2007 fall season will by July 14, 21, 28, and August 4. The coaches meeting will be August 11, with practices beginning on August 13. Any child from the age of three (by July 31 of this year) up to 17 can participate in the Jacksonville Soccer Association. Rogers says she is hoping for around 300 kids to join up.

For the first time in several years, the JSA could potentially have a competitive team in the 13U Sunfires. The team is expected to play as a select team, which is somewhat of an intermediate level between the traditional recreation and classic leagues.
For more information on the upcoming registration, please contact Kimberly Rogers at 843-7571 or registrar Tina Harris at 941-3588. You can also visit the JSA at their Website: .

EDITORIALS>>PSC backs ratepayers

The job of the state Public Service Commission is to look out for the consumers of energy but fairly consider the profit interests of utilities. When the commission ordered Entergy Corp. Friday to reduce its base retail rate to homeowners and businesses by $5.7 million a year rather than raise them to the tune of $106.5 million as the company wanted, most consumers no doubt believed that the regulators did their jobs well enough. We think so, too, though we might have been a trifle tougher still.

This commission, under the new chairman, Paul Suskie, who was appointed in January by Gov. Beebe, seems to abide by the doctrine that utility regulators are to be first tribunes of the people — the customers — and not servants of the utilities and their investors.

Part of the company’s big rate request — originally $150 million a year, scaled back to $106.5 million after the PSC staff and the attorney general recommended flat rates or a reduction — was to compensate the company for hefty stock options and bonuses for top executives at the utility and its parent holding company, as well as a large assortment of lobbying expenses and executive perquisites.

When the media reported the details of these above-the-line expenses in the application early last year, it became impossible for the commission — almost any public commission — to recognize the costs as a legitimate consumer burden. A hot air balloon race? Body lotion? Sports tickets? Rock and symphony concert tickets? Country club dues? Expensive whisky? Personal financial advice? Overdue phone bills? They had to be kidding! But they weren’t.

The commission disallowed most of the recovery for stock options and incentive pay, but it did allow a few on the theory that some incentives for high performance by executives benefited the ratepayers in some way. We would have said none. Incentive pay is for raising shareholder value, not for improving service, and investors should pay it. The PSC reduced the calculation for the company’s return on equity — the compensation for shareholders — from the 11.25 percent requested by Entergy to 9.9 percent. Most of us would consider that a healthy return.

The reduced rate will take effect this month. But if you’re an Entergy customer, you should not go out and spend your savings on crystal or new frocks. When you get your bills, they will be higher, not lower. The news accounts did not make that clear.

Utility rates are complicated and consist of several tiers. While customers’ base monthly rate will go down slightly to reflect a reduction in the company’s systemwide income of $5.7 million, customers starting this month will have to subsidize Entergy customers in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi because the utilities down there have higher production costs than the generating plants — nuclear and coal-fired — that were built in Arkansas in the last 35 years.

They burn a lot of natural gas to generate electricity south of us, and gas prices have gone through the roof. So Louisiana asked the federal government to make Arkansas customers help them pay their bills. President Bush’s regulators agreed in 2005. That subsidy — roughly $250 million a year — starts this month. It will show up on your bills every month as an extra charge.

All that the commission could do in its rate order Friday was determine how the extra charge would be computed and divided among residential, industrial, commercial and wholesale customers. Arkansas has been providing a similar subsidy since the Grand Gulf case in the mid-1980s, where the regulators under President Ronald Reagan determined that Arkansas should help its neighbors bear the cost of building hugely expensive nuclear plants.

Two years ago, Louisiana argued and the feds agreed that the total production costs should be roughly equalized among Entergy customers in the four states.

Arkansas would have to pay if its production costs were more than 11 percent below the others. It now is because of the high gas costs in Louisiana and the sharply lower annual depreciation cost of Arkansas’ aging nuclear and coal plants.

The PSC somewhat lamely explained Friday that it was doing its best for Arkansas by appealing the Bush administration order to the federal appellate court in Washington. It promised that if it lost it would appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court. Should it ever win, you will get a refund of your monthly subsidies to people and industries on the Gulf coast. Don’t start spending that either.

OBITUARIES >> 6-20-07

Georgia Gillett

Georgia Olive Gillett, 87, longtime resident of Beebe passed away June 18.

She is survived by four daughters, Donna Fenton, Jacqueline Bregard, Patricia Kinnserly, and Mary Tucker; nine grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; four great-great-grandchildren; one brother, Albert Meusch; two sisters, Alyce Klauz and Thelma Dodson.

Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 20 at Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe. Burial will be in Little Rock National Cemetery.

Luther Rogers

Luther Harve “L. H.” Rogers, 82, of Vinity passed away on June 15. He was born Oct. 7, 1924.

He loved his family, friends and community. He was of pioneering stock from Vinity community. L. H. loved the woods, fields, creeks and streams. He enjoyed the time spent hunting with family, friends and dogs. He was a proud veteran of the Second World War, serving with the Marines in their sweep across the Pacific.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Dell Rogers; four sons, Danny and wife Kathy, Harvey and wife Rhonda, Charles and wife Carol, Tim and wife Tamara; 10 grandchildren; one great-grandchild; one brother, Hubert and wife Avanell and a host of cherished nephews, nieces, and other family. Graveside services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 20, at Cheek Cemetery in Vinity by Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe.

Randy Butcher

Randy Doyle Butcher, 45, of Cabot passed away June 17.  

He was born Feb. 22, 1962 in Brinkley to Doyle and Mary Jo Hall Butcher. His father, Doyle Butcher preceded him in death.
Randy graduated from Brinkley High School in May 1980.  He married Linda Bennett Butcher on July 4, 1986.  Randy professed his faith in Jesus as a teenager and recently rededicated his life to God and encouraged others to be saved.  
He enjoyed fishing, hunting, the outdoors and life.  He loved people, was very friendly, open, and had a good sense of humor.  

He enjoyed snow skiing and was an avid Razorbacks fan. “How y’all doing?” was a phrase he often used to family and friends, always expressing warmth and concern for others. He was considered not only an uncle but a special mentor and friend to his nephews and nieces. His favorite fishing buddy was his mother.  He was a truck driver for SAIA Motor Freight.

He leaves behind his wife of 21 years, Linda Butcher of Cabot; two sons, Clint Butcher and wife Machelle of Amarillo, Texas, and Hunter Butcher of the home; two daughters of the home, Cortney and Hallie Butcher; his grandchildren, Zach and Kylie Butcher of Palestine and Micah Butcher of Amarillo, Texas; his mother, Mary Jo Butcher of Brinkley, his paternal grandmother, Dorothy Butcher of Fargo; a sister, Angie Jo  Melikian and husband Roger of Brinkley; his mother-in-law, Louise Bennett of Brinkley; a brother-in-law, Ricky Bennett and wife Amanda of Searcy; a sister-in-law, Susan Sullens of Brinkley; four nephews, Matthew, Clayton, and Cameron Joshlin and Ricky Bennett Jr.; two nieces, Brandi and Celia Bennett and a host of other relatives and friends.    

There will be a memorial service at 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 20 at Grace Fellowship Church in Cabot with Brother David Swift officiating.  Arrangements are by Moore’s Cabot Funeral Home.  Following cremation, his ashes will be set free at Bayou Deview, Highway 17, in Brinkley.

Cassondra Speer

Cassondra Leigh Speer, 24, of Jacksonville passed away June 16. She was born March 27, 1983 in Jacksonville to John J. Milner and Deborah Ann Speer.

She was preceded in death by both of her grandfathers and she was of the Baptist faith. Survivors include her parents; grandmothers, Katherine Speer and Theresa Bags, both of Jacksonville; sisters, Ashley and Jessica Milner also of Jacksonville and many aunts and uncles who loved her dearly.

Funeral services will be at 3 p.m. Thursday, June 21 in the chapel of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home with Mr. Les Bradford officiating. Burial will follow in Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Jacksonville. Visitation will be at the funeral home from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 20.

Robert Games

Robert B. Games, 71, of Jacksonville went to be with the Lord June 17, at his home in Jacksonville. He was born July 8, 1935 in St. John, Kan., to the late Ralph Brooks and Alta Vivian Brockman Games. He served in the Navy and attended Light House Tabernacle Church in Jacksonville.

Survivors include his wife, Claudette, stepson, Eric Hazlett and wife Shannon, brother-in-law, Larry Don Bailey, sister-in-law, Liz Bailey and grandchildren, Victoria Rodriquez and Hunter Hazlett all of Jacksonville.

A celebration of life will be 2 p.m. Saturday, June 23, in the chapel of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home, with Rev. Ron Denton officiating. Funeral arrangements are under direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

Augustine Busbea

Augustine Busbea of Beebe died June 15 after a short illness. She was born Feb. 17, 1926, the middle daughter of Buck and Irene Merritt.

She married Raymond Busbea on April 11, 1947.

During her life she served as a homemaker, mother, school lunchroom cook, and was known for being a steady and hard worker. She was an active member of Sixteenth Section Church of Beebe and served as a Sunday school teacher there for many years.

She was preceded in death by her husband, parents and two sisters. She is survived by two sons, Ronnie Busbea and wife Wanda of Beebe and Randy Busbea and wife Sherry of Little Rock; four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Funeral service was June 18 at Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe with burial in Mount Olive Cemetery.

TOP STORY >>Sherwood golf course appraised

Leader staff writer

The city-funded appraisal is now in and states that the North Hills Golf Course is worth $2.215 million. The city-funded feasibility study, released in May, suggests that the city buy the property for $1.5 million.

Pulaski County, for tax purposes, has appraised the 106-acre facility at $3.1 million. And businessman Ron Campbell made a bona-fide offer earlier this year of $5.1 million. Regardless of who is right, interim Mayor Bill Harmon wants the city to push forward with the possible purchase of the golf course.

In a Monday press release, after he received the 40-plus-page appraisal, Harmon called the appraised price reasonable and realistic.

“At this price, the city could purchase this property without any tax increase, should it decide to do so, and save these 106 acres of valuable green space in the middle of our city.

“The next step will be to determine the best way to finance any such purchase,” Harmon said.

The appraisal, which cost the city $8,000, was performed by Ronald E. Bragg.

In the cover letter of his report, Bragg states “It is my opinion that the highest and best use of the subject property is no longer as a country club and golf course, but as single-family residential development, and as of the date of my inspection, May 8, 2007, it is my opinion that the subject property had a market value of $2,215,000.”

City Attorney Steve Cobb said even though Bragg recommended that the best use of the property would be as a single-family home development, that “this of course does not preclude this property being used for a golf course, park or any other recreational use.”

Harmon now plans to appoint what he calls a blue-ribbon committee of Sherwood citizens “to review the appraisal as well as the feasibility study.”

The purpose of the committee would be to report back with recommendations about the possible purchase of the property and methods of financing any such purchase, Harmon said in his press release. He added that two polls showed “support among Sherwood’s citizens for saving this green space is very high, and we at the city wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t do all we could to try and save it.”

In presenting his $2.215 million figure to the city, Bragg looked at the property in two ways: As vacant land and as in its current use, with the improvements necessary to make it viable as a golf course.

In his report, Bragg cited the feasibility study, which stated that the facility suffers from significant deferred maintenance and significant repairs and replacements are needed at a cost of up to $1.89 million.

Bragg based his market value of the property on “the most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale with the buyer and seller each acting prudently and knowledgeably.”
Bragg said the deed and covenants presented some difficulties in determining the market value.

The deed, along with related amendments state that the land would be used as a golf course until 2026, and if it could not be operated as a golf course then it would convert to residential use.

According to the deed and its amendments, “No undertaking which is or may become noxious or offensive shall be carried on or permitted on any part of said lands nor shall anything be done which may become an annoyance or nuisance to adjacent residents.”

Bragg said that the deed could restrict commercial use of any of the land, but didn’t say it would for sure since the deed had been amended in the past to allow “quiet business use” on a portion of the land previously sold.

TOP STORY >>City clerk gets back her duties

Leader staff writer

In January, the Cabot City Council officially restored the duties that were stripped from Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler when Stubby Stumbaugh was mayor. Last week, after she lost her budget manager, Dale Walker, in a second round of layoffs to cut the city budget, she actually took over the work again after more than four years.

She is admittedly not familiar with the new accounting system and is considering returning to the old one.

She said she will go over all the financial records since January to make sure all transactions were coded correctly. And she will have to ask all her employees to take on more work than they were doing in the past to make up for the loss of the budget manager. Nevertheless, Verkler says she is glad to be running her own department again.

“It feels good,” she said Monday after a full week back at her old job. “It’s not anything I haven’t done before and it’s not anything I can’t do.”

Early in 2003, the city council took away most of Verkler’s duties and most of her staff and assigned them to Walker, who filled the newly created position of finance director and answered directly to the mayor.

Verkler sued the new mayor claiming he convinced the council to take away her duties because she supported his opponent, former Mayor Joe Allman.

Later that same year while Verkler was away from work for the birth of her first grandchild, Stumbaugh asked the council to also take away her checkwriting duties. Ignoring the fact that Verkler still had to sign the checks, Stumbaugh claimed that her absences made it difficult to pay the city bills and that giving the check-writing responsibility to Walker would expedite the process.

After about two years, she dropped the suit against Stumbaugh saying that keeping it going was against her religious convictions. The tension was noticeably lessened at council meetings, where she and Stumbaugh sat side by side. Eventually, she and Walker began working together secretly on budget issues so that by the time the budget committee learned late in 2006 that there was not enough money in the bank to make the payroll, Verkler was familiar with the problems the city faced.

By that time, Eddie Joe Williams had been elected mayor, and Walker knew the new mayor had no intention of keeping finances under his office. Walker was to become the budget manager under Verkler, who, for all practical purposes, he had replaced four years earlier.

Despite the hostility that reportedly existed between Verkler and Walker during the first three years of Stumbaugh’s administration, Verkler said this week that she is sad Walker was included in the layoff, but that he was the obvious choice if a cut had to be made in her department. With her duties restored by the council, his were a duplication, she said.

Verkler takes back the reins during a time of cautious spending. She said last week that the $280,000 or so the mayor has set aside since the first of the year is barely enough for one payroll. And exactly how the city will make the $5,000 monthly payment to Regions Bank for the five-year loan to buy property for a fire station on Highway 5 is not exactly clear. But she said she believes increased tax revenue is enough to cover it. In her 22 years with the city, she has seen the city in worse financial difficulty, she said.

Since she has been city clerk, the women in her office have shared a single bottle of white-out, she said. She said her predecessor would occasionally hold her own paycheck until she was certain everyone else’s had cleared the bank.

Since Verkler is elected to her position, there is nothing in her job description that says she must be in the office for a specified amount of time. And in recent years, that has been to her benefit. Verkler says she doesn’t mind talking about her illnesses. A back injury kept her away from the office for several months when Allman was mayor.

This year, she went through a difficult time when she believed she might have cancer. Her real problem turned out to be gastro paresis (a dead spot in her intestine) caused by diabetes.

But Verkler says her back doesn’t bother her as often as it did and now that her intestinal problem has been diagnosed and she is on the right medication, her health is much improved. She’s ready to get back to work she said and up to the challenge.

“I’ve got a very professional staff and we’re willing to do what we need to,” she said.

TOP STORY >>Accused killer pleads innocent

Leader staff writer

Marlin Marbley, 24, who is accused of beating his longtime live-in girlfriend at the Plantation Village Mobile Home Park in Jacksonville Saturday, remains in jail on a $500,000 bond after he plead not guilty Monday to first-degree murder.

“I’ve been told they have had domestic disturbances before…where, I don’t know,” said Lt. Martin Cass, public information officer for the Jacksonville Police Department. “It’s my understanding that they have just been living in this trailer park since the first of this month.”

Cass said the victim, 24-year-old Cassondra Leigh Speer, died from “one blow to the head,” although no autopsy has been performed yet.

Around 9 a.m. Saturday, Jacksonville police officers were dispatched to 2008 Hwy. 162 South-Lot 34 to asnwer an “unknown domestic disturbance,” according to a JPD press release.

The mobile home was padlocked from the outside and police contacted the local mobile home park manager, who opened up a window and was the first to see the victim lying in the hallway.

The park manager had removed a board from a side window and got a glimpse of a “disturbing sight,” and so did an officer, who notified detectives to secure the murder scene.

“No one else was inside the trailer,” Cass said.

Detectives arrived at the apparent murder scene but no weapons were located leading police to believe Speer had been beaten to death. Her body was transported to the Arkansas Crime Lab for an autopsy.

According to Cass, the murder suspect went to his mother’s house, which is also in Jacksonville, and told her that he had “a fight” with his girlfriend. The suspect’s mother called police and she was concerned about the girlfriend’s welfare, according to Cass.

“I was told she had called the dispatch center and told them there was some kind of disturbance between the couple (Marlin Marbley and Cassondra Speer),” Cass told The Leader.

Marbley was located at a relative’s home in Sherwood at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday and was held on the murder charge at the Sherwood Police Department.

“When he was arrested, he had blood on him,” Cass said.

A group of women who did not want to be identified stood outside the courtroom where Marbley was arraigned Monday. They told The Leader that the couple had been together for five years.

One woman described Marbley as a “good man.”

Another woman said it wasn’t Marbley’s mother who had turned him over to the police but one of Speer’s relatives who had contacted the police after the young woman had failed to show up to her job.

The woman said Marbley’s mother did place a call to local law-enforcement authorities, but the conversation was garbled because of a bad connection.

Speer’s murder is the first homicide in Jacksonville this year.

TOP STORY >>Anniversary for center is celebrated

Leader senior staff writer

Good things are coming to Lonoke, but one that both stimulates and symbolizes the growth is the Lonoke Community Center, which celebrated its fifth birthday Friday morning with coffee and, inappropriately enough, doughnuts.

A green, steel-and-concrete mesa thrust 30 feet above the ever-decreasing agricultural landscape on Hwy.70, the 31,000-square-foot community center is an ever-changing organism, according to Michael Brown, the former Wal-Mart manager the city hired long before the doors opened.

People point to the wild growth of Cabot and its neighboring communities of Ward and Austin, but it was Lonoke residents who overwhelmingly approved a 1 percent sales tax upon themselves to build Lonoke County’s first community center.
Lonoke resident Ron Goss was the driving force behind the center, though he was always quick to point out he had lots of help.

Since that time, Lonoke residents have taxed themselves to build the new, adjacent Lonoke Middle School, and Lonoke should have a new, second I-40 interchange open sometime in 2010. With the promise of that interchange, city leaders believe a new manufacturing plant at a new industrial park is sure to follow. The doors had barely opened when Brown and the community center board came to the city council with the glad news that they needed to build a 3,000-square- foot annex because so many classes were being offered.

That’s pretty impressive when you consider that the community center already had a full-sized gymnasium with six baskets, a walking track, a fitness room packed with weights and exercise machines, a large indoor swimming pool, locker rooms and two meeting or classrooms.

Amidst great excitement, the center opened in the summer of 2002 and membership quickly grew to about 3,000, including people from as far away as England, Carlisle and Cabot.

Since that time, it has leveled off at about 1,600—maybe higher in the winter—and with the help of the tax revenues, that’s enough to sustain the operation, Brown said. He has two other full-time employees and 12 or 13 part-time employees plus some volunteers. During the summers, Central Arkansas Planning and Development pays for three 28-hour-a-week positions.

Youngsters and young adults swim and play basketball, but the middle-aged and seniors, come to use the walking track and the cardio-vascular machines on the upper level.

The center recently got some small golf clubs to start a hook-a-kid-on-golf program, Brown said, and square dancing could be coming to the center.

Among the other activities at the center are Tai Chi Chuan—a slow motion Chinese exercise that is the basis for martial arts forms—water aerobics for arthritic people, Tae kwon do, weight loss incentive programs, gymnastics, dance, twirling, yoga and abs classes.

Brown runs the soccer league.

The men’s basketball league is very competitive, he said, including area residents who play or played in college. One, Marcus Cole, played for the Rim Rockers. “They play a good brand of basketball,” Brown said.

Operating the center hasn’t been without its challenges, according to Brown. Some children can be over-stimulated or aggressive, but he rarely has to suspend anyone’s privileges. The swimming pool roof partially collapsed after a storm and had to be fixed, the basketball floor refinished regularly and the fountain out front has become the source of jokes.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it leaks, and the filters get clogged with grass clippings. It’s had fish, volunteer frogs and colored water in it. Until the new middle school was complete, the high school basketball team practiced in the gym and the school district contributed toward its maintenance.

The Lonoke Community Center, testimony to the residents’ desire to provide for all, but particularly for the town’s children, has served as a model for other small communities. When they were considering or preparing to build their own community center, residents from Cabot, England, Newport Helena, Forrest City, Brinkley and Greenbrier talked to Lonoke.

“They are usually more interested in how to pay for it or run it (than the actual structure and layout), Brown said. Lonoke Community Center memberships are Youth 12 and under: $7.50 a month, $38 for six months or $75 per year; Teenagers or senior citizens: $9 a month, $52 for six months or $100 per year; Senior couple: $11 a month, $64 for six months or $125 per year; Adult: $13.50 a month, $78 for six months or $150 per year.

For a family of one to four persons, it’s $15 a month, $189 for six months or $175 per year; Families of five or more: $17.50 a month, $104 for six months or $200 per year. Walking passes are $30 a year for a senior, $40 a year for a senior couple or $35 per year for an individual.

TOP STORY >>Influence grows for Snyder in Congress

Leader senior staff writer

The war in Iraq has entered its fifth year with no end in sight and scant evidence that the Iraqi government can soon stand up its own military and police forces—likely prerequisites to bringing home U.S. troops.

Against that backdrop, Second District Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, takes over July 1 as chairman of the important House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.

Under Republican control, the Tom DeLay-led Congress repealed authority for oversight and investigation in 1994, but the Democrats brought it back in January.

Since the Bush presidency, “Congressional oversight has been abysmal, particularly regarding procurement and the Pentagon,” Snyder said. The committee’s authority is breathtakingly broad, but the one area Snyder knows his committee will investigate is why so little progress has been made training the Iraqi Army and police for a swift and effective turnover, Snyder said Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve been encouraged several times that (those forces) were ready,” said Snyder, “with young Iraqis dressed in uniform. It never worked out.”

Snyder replaces Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts. Meehan has resigned his position in Congress to serve as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Snyder, one of the 126 members of Congress to vote against the joint resolution to invade Iraq in 2003, served in Vietnam as a Marine and has long been a staunch advocate for the men and women in the military. He will step down as chairman of the House Armed Services Personnel committee to take the new position. Snyder, who served on the oversight committee, said he was encouraged in recent weeks to take the chairmanship by House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo.

The committee’s mandate is so broad—it can hold hearings or investigate virtually anything related to the Defense Department, national security, homeland security, healthcare for soldiers, recruiting and retention, nuclear non-proliferation to name a few areas—that Snyder is still canvassing fellow committee members.

“We’re beginning with a clean slate July 1,” he said. “I’m in the process of throwing out a big net. Where do we go from here? I have a list of ideas.”

“We have a hearing coming up on Walter Reed (Army Medical Center), health care for personnel and procurement and retention,” he said.

Although the committee has limited time and staff, its staff won’t be much involved in the joint budget conference committees in September and October. In addition to holding hearings and investigating, the committee can recommend changes and legislation to the House Armed Services Committee.

Asked if his experiences as a Marine in Viet-nam would inform his chairmanship, Snyder said, “We take our backgrounds with us.”

He said his knowledge of Little Rock Air Force Base and the National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade and his experience as a doctor and attorney all would play a part in considerations.

“That’s big,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., of Snyder’s new chairmanship. “It’s a real honor for Vic.” Pryor said it showed Snyder’s colleague’s respect for him and trust.

“Because of his military background—he was a marine, served his country on active duty and never shied away—he’s always been a strong advocate (for service members), Pryor said.

“In many ways, he’s the real anti-politician. He doesn’t promote himself, doesn’t have to be the center of attention and gets to work and gets it done,” Pryor added.

“He’s a thoughtful and independent thinker with strong convictions. That’s why he gets about 68 percent of the vote (at election time). People respect that.”

“His constituents in Arkansas and all Americans are well-served by having an individual with Vic’s integrity and expertise in the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark. “Congressman Snyder brings demonstrated leadership and experience to his new role.”

TOP STORY >>Another C-130J coming to base

The 41st Airlift Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base will receive its third C-130J aircraft in an arrival ceremony at the base today.

The 41st Airlift Squadron became the newest unit of the 463rd Airlift Group at the base April 6. The “Black Cats” are also the first active-duty combat C-130J Hercules squadron in the Air Force.

The 41st AS moved here from Pope AFB, N.C., after the base realignment and closure process. Plans are for the “Black Cats” to have a complete fleet of C-130Js.

The C-130J aircraft will be delivered from the Lockheed Martin factory in Marietta, Ga., by 18th Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. James A. Hawkins. This will be the second new C-130J aircraft that will be delivered to the squadron directly from the manufacturer.

The 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base has seven C-130sJ for training. The base will receive several more C-130Js, which are the new generation of cargo planes. They are more computerized and have several modern features. The planes cost about $60 million each.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to eliminate the C-130J program, but Air Force officials, defense contractors, congressional and civilian supporters pushed to continue the program.

In a related development, the Army last week announced a $2.04 billion contract award to L-3 Communications Integrated Systems for their C-27J Spartan to be the joint cargo aircraft, which could also one day be assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base.

This JCA program is a combined Air Force and Army effort to have an airframe that will meet warfighter needs for intratheater airlift.

It is smaller than the C-130 and is therefore more versatile, getting in and out of restricted space much faster. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., supports the joint cargo aircraft and hopes Little Rock Air Force Base will get several of them.
Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., said, “Little Rock Air Force Base has a very bright future. It’s a long time before (the C-27J) rolls off the assembly line. Little Rock Air Force Base is a great place to do the kind of training they need, and the Air Force knows that.”

“This is a great day for all of us,” said Maj. Gen. Marshall K. Sabol, Air Force deputy chief of staff for Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans and Requirements. “We’ve been working hard together with the Army on all the requirements, and we’ve come up with a joint airplane, the same airplane, working on the same mission.”

Army and Air Force leaders said the JCA will bring advantages to both services and also assist in the recapitalization efforts of both services.

Leader senior writer John Hofheimer and Air Force Public Affairs contributed to this article.