Friday, May 09, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Judge Griffen is our choice

Ordinarily, you get to know nothing about the people running to be a judge in Arkansas unless you happen to be in the candidate’s circle of friends and family or unless he or she had a previous public life — a lawmaker or prosecutor perhaps — that exposed the candidate’s ideas and predilections about how the public’s business should be conducted. If the candidate is already a judge, you may have become familiar with his or her preferences or biases, which every single judge brings in some way to decision making. Otherwise, all you know is what will fit on a calling card: the candidate’s years in the bar, matrimonial status, number of children, current job and civic memberships, along with the ritual promise to be fair.

Judge Wendell Griffen of the Arkansas Court of Appeals is an exception, although not particularly by his choosing. Some six years ago, he got quoted in the newspaper about the endemic racism in the athletic department at the University of Arkansas after he spoke to some black lawmakers at Fayetteville, which caused the director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to haul him in for violating the ban on public speech by judges. No, Judge Griffen said, the U. S.
Supreme Court years ago struck down those bans and affirmed that judges have the same rights to be heard that the Bill of Rights gives to every other American. Besides, he said, he never made a public utterance about any issue that was before his court or ever likely to be there.

In his role as a Baptist minister and leader of a national religious organization, Griffen over the years has often spoken on moral issues in religious forums, and after the U of A controversy the media on three or four occasions picked up comments that he made about the moral dimensions of the Iraq war, prejudice and the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which caused more complaints to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission about a judge making comments in public.

Twice the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with Griffen, and finally so did the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
The Arkansas bar is now rewriting the ethical canons for judges to reflect the values that Griffen espoused.

Rarely does one win such clear vindication, but it still could cost him his career. He has an opponent for re-election to the Court of Appeals, which is extremely rare for sitting judges. He, too, would be unopposed were it not for the five-year smear by the director of the discipline commission that he was somehow an unethical judge because he allowed himself to be quoted in newspapers a half-dozen times on matters of public concern (as if he could have stopped it). The Arkansas Democrat Gazette joined the chase, penning at least a dozen editorials attacking the jurist for undermining public confidence in the courts. The paper’s editorial page obviously disagreed with his criticism of President Bush, the war and the University of Arkansas, but the paper eventually acknowledged that he had won his argument that he had a right to utter them — after that right had been affirmed by the Supreme Court and the commission itself. But exercising that right sullies the courts, the newspaper said again this week when it endorsed his opponent, Rita Gruber. Gruber is a former Pulaski County official and now a juvenile judge, a passably good one from what we hear.

Were it not for the controversy over his right to speech, Judge Griffen would be judged on his unassailable judicial record, as an appellate judge and formerly as a quasi-judicial arbiter of worker compensation rights. Even the Democrat-Gazette, which praised his high intelligence and personal likeability, found no exception to his some two thousand decisions as a judge. No question was ever raised about his impartiality or the wisdom of his opinions.
That is good enough for The Leader to endorse him for re-election on May 20.

TOP STORY > >Gas breaks $3.50

Leader staff writer

Gasoline busted through the $3.50 mark in central Arkansas with a vengeance this week, and is just pennies away from the $4 mark in Alaska and California.

According to the American Automobile Association, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline in Arkansas was $3.55 Friday, up three cents from a month ago and 67 cents higher than a year ago.

The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline rose 2.6 cents to $3.671 Friday, breaking the record set Thursday.

It was the second day in a row that gas prices set a record, and follows a 17-day streak of record-breaking days that ended May 1.

Both Jacksonville and Cabot are averaging $3.54 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. Sherwood is five cents higher at $3.59 and Beebe at $3.57. All four cities are above the state average.

TOP STORY > >Secure rooms in schools a good idea, Beebe says

Associated Press writer

Just before the sirens sounded in Carlisle, school superintendent Floyd Marshall got the warning from police — a tornado was coming right for the town’s elementary and high school.

But unlike most other schools in Arkansas, the two Carlisle schools have specially designed interior hallways — dubbed tornado-safe rooms — where the district’s 750 students cowered until the storms passed by on May 2.

“It doesn’t take but the one time to devastate a community and families and if there’s a way to prevent that from occurring, then we need to make an effort to do it,” Marshall said. “You may never need it, but that one time that you do that you don’t have it, it’s something you can’t recover from.”

The National Weather Service said the Carlisle tornado last week had a path 2.6 miles long and was rated an E-F1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale from 0 to 5, meaning it had winds of 86-110 mph.

It veered away from the shared campus of the elementary and high schools at the last moment, but Gov. Mike Beebe acknowledged the importance of the rooms on a visit to the city Monday.

“School districts are making the conscious decision when they’re either renovating or doing new construction to go ahead and spend the money while they’re at it,” Beebe told reporters.

“I’d like to see them everywhere. I’d like to see them as much as possible. But at this juncture, we’re not in a position to mandate them everywhere, unless you have the money to be able to give them to everybody.”

Julie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education, acknowledged that many schools throughout the state do not have the safe rooms.

She said officials do not keep an official count of how many schools have them.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock confirmed Monday that damage in Conway, Van Buren and Cleburne counties was inflicted by a single tornado that they classified as an E-F3 with winds between 136 and 165 mph.

Lonoke County had 56 homes hit by the tornado. Of that, 13 were destroyed; nine had major damage, and 19 had minor damage.

Pulaski County had 75 homes hit. Of that total, 21 were destroyed; 16 had major damage, and 27 had minor damage. State law requires schools to hold tornado drills no less than four times per year.

TOP STORY > >Water department given good grades

Leader staff writer

An audit of Cabot Water-Works books for the past two years when it has been overseen by a commission shows the utility’s finances are sound and that the controls are sufficient to make manipulation of the books difficult.

“From what we see here, this organization has operated in a financially prudent manner,” Michael Cobb of Cobb and Suskie, LTD, Certified Public Accountants, told the commission Thursday night.

J.M. Park, chairman of Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, pressed Cobb and accountant Melissa Hodgson about the issue of internal controls to safeguard against embezzlement.

Hodgson and Cobb responded that theft is always possible in private and public operations if employees are determined to steal.

But they said the internal controls at WaterWorks are adequate.

The audit shows that expenses were up in 2007 over 2006, from $3.8 million to $4.3 million because of projects and inflation and that income was down, possibly in part because of the building slowdown, which meant fewer fees were collected. In 2006, WaterWorks’ revenue was $6.1 million compared to $6 million in 2007.

But with 10 months of operating capital in the bank, Cobb said WaterWorks is in an enviable position compared to some smaller utilities where rates are lower than they should be to pay for maintenance and growth-related projects.

The audit shows WaterWorks has $9.5 million in unrestricted assets that will go toward the $11 million needed to build a water- line from Gravel Ridge to Cabot to connect Cabot to Central Arkansas Water.

In other business, Tim Joyner, WaterWorks director, told the commission that the wastewater treatment plant that opened late
in 2007 is operating well, but the bugs are still being worked out of some of the monitoring systems. Until they are, the construction company over the $15 million project won’t be paid the last $58,000 for the work.

“Hopefully they’ll have all this wrapped up in a week,” Joyner said.

Work is progressing on landscaping and roads at the new plant and the grand opening is still scheduled for sometime in the fall.

Commission Secretary Bill Cypert said when the plant opened that when it was completed he would drink a glass of the treated water. He said Thursday night that he intends to make good on his promise and will expect news cameras on hand for the occasion.

Opening the new plant brought the city into compliance with state and federal discharge regulations but now the problem that must be dealt with is groundwater infiltration into sewer lines.

Joyner said $250,000 was spent last year replacing broken lines at Greystone that were not properly installed and that line replacement this year at Lindu Lake and Hickory Bend and Greystone Boulevard have been estimated at $325,000.

Additionally, work will be done at Shiloh, Turnberry, Magness Creek and Highway 321 to keep water from running into manholes.

“Engineers like having them ground level because they are unsightly but when it floods they act just like a bathtub drain,” Shaw said in a later interview.

“We don’t allow it anymore. Our policy is that they have to be above the floodplain,” Shaw added.

WaterWorks also is in the process of building a $1.5 million, 36-inch sewer line that will extend from the new treatment plant off Kerr Station Road to Locust Street in the downtown area.

The pipe will replace an eight-inch concrete pipe that has crumbled over time and allows rainwater to get into the sewer system.

TOP STORY > >Base officer indicted as sex offender

Leader senior staff writer

Trial is set for Oct. 14 for a Little Rock Air Force Base officer on six child pornography charges.

Lt. Michael James Blum, a Sherwood resident, is still a member of the military with discharge action pending, according to Airman Jason Elkins of Little Rock Air Force Base.

Blum is a mobility navigator for the 50th Airlift Squadron.

A federal grand jury returned indictments against Blum on Aug. 7, 2007 and he was arrested three days later.

Charges include two counts of enticing children between October 2004 until December 2005 to pose or engage in a sexually explicit way that could be transported in interstate commerce.

He is charged with receiving child pornography on a computer via the Internet.

Blum also is charged with possession of child pornography.

Blum was charged with two other child pornography violations for attempting to entice underage victims to engage in sexual activity. All six charges are felonies.

All are alleged to have occurred after Blum entered the Air Force in April 2003 but before he arrived at Little Rock Air Force Base in October 2006.

The court released Blum on his own recognizance on the condition that he remain in his home with electronic monitoring, that he not have access to a computer or a cell phone and that he have no contact with his wife or with any children, including his three alleged victims.

Blum also was ordered to refrain from “excessive” use of alcohol.

TOP STORY > >Huckabee pushing for Minton’s defeat

Leader senior staff writer

In December, Ward Republican Randy Minton traveled to Iowa to campaign against former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and now Huckabee has returned the favor, endorsing Minton’s opponent for state representative in the May 20 Republican preferential primary.

Huckabee last week endorsed Cabot attorney Davy Carter, 36, for the District 48 seat currently held by state Rep. Susan Schulte, also a Republican. Like other area House members, Schulte is finishing up her sixth year, and because of term limits, is ineligible to run again.

She first sought the seat when, at the end of two terms, Minton didn’t run for reelection, choosing instead to run for the state Senate. He lost that race to Carlisle Democrat Bobby Glover, now the current state senator.

Minton has said he would run to get his old seat back for one last term, then run for the state Senate in two years when term limits turn Glover out.

The winner of the Republican primary had been expected to face a challenge in November from John T. Harty, an independent, but Harty’s petition to get on the ballot wasn’t certified when he didn’t have enough valid signatures, according to Natasha Naragon of the secretary of state’s office.

She said Harty needed 270 valid signatures, but of the 348 he submitted, only 251 were valid.

With Harty out of the picture and no Democrat running, the winner of the May 20 primary race between Minton and Carter will be sworn into office in January.

“I am thrilled and honored to have the endorsement of Governor Huckabee like any Arkansas Republican would be,” Carter said.

“I will be supporting Davy Carter in any way I can,” Huckabee said. “Davy is an outstanding attorney who is passionate about actually governing by keeping taxes low, holding government more accountable, and standing firm for families and for the sanctity of life.”

This is the first run for office for Carter. Before going into private practice a year ago, he was general counsel and vice president for Community Bank.

Carter says his candidacy is not against Minton, but just because he has things he wants to do in the legislature. “Randy’s a good man,” he said.

Carter said as a state representative, he would work to raise the standard deduction for taxpayers and support repealing the rest of the grocery tax. He would advocate for vocational education in the schools.

Carter is married with three children, the oldest seven.

Minton’s choice for the Republican presidential nominee was Fred Thompson, who never really got out of the starting gates, but when Ron Paul’s campaign called to lure Minton to Iowa to share tales of Huckabee woe, Minton said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Minton, a small-government Republican wanting to lower taxes, has called Huckabee a RINO—Republican in Name Only.

“He’s a pro-life, pro-gun liberal,” Minton has said.

Minton likes to say he’s from the “Republican wing of the Republican Party” and is philosophically tied to Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.

Minton, 57, a life-long resident of the district, says nothing is more antifamily than higher taxes. He is “unashamedly pro-life” and will work “to protect unborn babies,” he said.

He also opposes same-sex marriage, adoption of children by same-sex partners and defends gun ownership.

“I’m really flattered that the governor would think that our race was important enough for him to get involved in it,” Minton said. “I think the governor and I have differences of opinion on fiscal policy and I guess that he thinks Davy is more in line with his fiscal policy.”

He said he had a history while in office of voting against fee and tax increases that the governor supported.

“It’s pretty neat that a second-place presidential candidate endorses your opponent,” he said.

Minton has a real-estate ap-praisal business and raises some beef cattle. He is married to Lonoke County Quorum Court member Janette Minton.

Carter said he and Minton have essentially the same beliefs.

“I am socially and fiscally conservative,” he said, “not looking for tax increases and looking to cut taxes.”

Of the proposed one-penny, one-year county sales tax to build a new Lonoke County Detention Center, Carter said the issue was exactly where it needed to be—on the ballot where residents can decide.

Minton said the county could have built a jail without new taxes, but he supports the sales tax because it would sunset in a year.

TOP STORY > >Developers buy shopping center

Leader editors

Two brothers who used to shop there as youngsters in the 1960s have bought the Jacksonville Shopping Center.
Mike and Phil Sentell are the new owners of the center and are planning to remodel the outside and inside of the 50-year-old strip mall.

Mike Wilson and his partners Jim Peacock and Jim O’Brien, doing business as MJMJ LLC, sold the 12-acre, 130,000-square-foot shopping center to the brothers.

The Sentells, of Greenbrier, are making a $5 million investment in the project, which includes extensive renovation plans.

“We will completely reface the outside and remodel the inside,” Phil Sentell said Friday.

He said the city’s oldest shopping center evokes the 1950s, which is why he wants to give it a more up-to-date look.

“We all remember shopping there with our parents in the 1960s,” said Sentell, who grew up in Beebe. “There was no McCain Mall back then.”

The Sentells are hoping to attract new tenants. Many of them moved out last winter, before plans to turn the strip into an Asian mall fell through.

Some long-time tenants were given non-renewal notices of their leases, while others said they chose to leave. At least one business closed. Storefronts formerly occupied by Stroman’s Furniture, Abdin Jewelers, Crafton’s Furni-ture and Executive Cleaners are now vacant.

Business owners who occupied Jacksonville Shopping Center started hearing that Sue Khoo — owner of Unique Furniture that occupies the middle of the shopping center — had planned to buy the strip mall last summer.

They believed Khoo had plans to create an Asian-inspired shopping complex with restaurants and a grocery store, but financing for the project fell through.

She hoped to buy the shopping center by the end of January.

Khoo had proposed buying the strip mall that occupies the entire 600 block of West Main Street.

She is leasing the 35,000-square-foot space for her business, in addition to three other businesses.

A “for rent” sign now sits in the lawn on Main Street in front of the shopping center. There were plans for a grocery store to rent one of the vacant spots.

Chamber’s Drug has occupied that space since the 50s. Owner Ron Lucas said he’s staying there for several more years.
Crafton’s and Abdin’s have moved to 2126 N. First in the old Wal-Mart shopping center in Jacksonville.

Stroman’s also moved into its new space on the other side of Jacksonville, to 1811 N. First St., next to Payless Shoes.

That Little Flea Market was the first to receive notice to vacate.

The owner leased space in the Jacksonville Shopping Center for 15 years but has relocated to 345 S. James St. in the Knight’s Grocery store complex.

SPORTS>>Badgers focus on becoming faster, stronger in 2008

Leader sports editor

Both regular season success and postseason disappointment are paying dividends for Beebe as spring football got under way last week.

The Badgers, under first-year head coach John Shannon, won their first six games last year on their way to an 8-3 record.

That translated into 58 players turning out this spring — 10 more than came out last year.

“There’s no question that our success got the interest up,” said Shannon, who radically altered the Beebephilosophy from pass-happy Spread to Wing-T grind last season.

The season ended with a 49-26 loss to eventual state champion Greenwood in a game that was much more lopsided than that final tally suggests. But that, too, provided motivation, Shannon insists, pointing to an offseason re-dedication among his team to strength and speed.

“We had a really good offseason,” Shannon said. “We are a lot stronger and faster than we were at this time last year. The loss to Greenwood showed us just how far we’ve got to go to get to that level. You pick out the elite programs in the state and you want to be like them.

“That transferred over. The kids worked extremely hard in the weight room to close the gap in strength and speed.”

Shannon was quick to point out that the Badgers would probably never be as fast as a team like Blytheville. But the improvement has been dramatic, nonetheless. Only four Badgers ran a sub-5-second 40-yard dash last year. This spring, 22 have achieved that feat.

Shannon is hoping that extra speed and strength — as well as a year of familiarity with his new offensive and defensive schemes – will help Beebe overcome the loss of 12 starters. The big graduations were quarterback Charlie Spakes, halfback/receiver/defensive back Josh Turner, halfback Chris Blundell, running back/linebacker Kyle Williams and offensive lineman Cody Cameron.

While those five will be hard to replace, Shannon chooses to focus on who’s coming back. It begins with four top-notch offensive linemen in first-team All-Conference selections Ross Stroud and Jacob Sullivan; second-team All-Conference player Tyler Wallen; and Justin Wooten, who returns from an ACL injury suffered late last season.

“One of our strengths we think will be our offensive line, with Sammy behind them,” Shannon said.

That would be Sammy Williams, the junior fullback who bulled his way for 1,172 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2007. Williams will be called on to be the workhorse again this season. He toted the ball nearly 250 times, or about 23 carries a game.

Taking over the quarterback position from Spakes is Roger Glaude, a player Shannon said possesses a great understanding of the Wing-T offense.

“He was Charlie’s backup last year, and he’s done very well in team drills,” Shannon said. “His strength is that he’s smart and he reads the option well. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he isn’t slow.”

The passing game proved surprisingly effective last season on the rare occasions it was used. Glaude may not possess the throwing ability of Spakes, and top receiver Josh Turner may be gone, but that doesn’t mean Shannon is forgetting about the forward pass as an offensive weapon. Top returning receiver Brandon Purcell is back and Shannon said he is counting on some youngsters to step up as a second receiver.

But it will once again be the effectiveness of the running game that will determine Beebe’s success. To that end, Shannon is working hard to improve the option attack, an area he said was something of a disappointment in ’07. He has a couple of young speedsters in sophomore-to-be Colby Taylor and junior Victor Howell. Both, he said, possess some of the fastest wheels on the squad.

Defensively, Beebe returns six players.

“Turner and (Kyle) Williams will be tough to replace back there,” Shannon said. “But Purcell started in the secondary all year.

And Glaude played back there so we could play him, too.”

Ideally, though, Shannon wants to keep Glaude fresh to focus on offense. He’s hoping that the extra roster players this season will mean fewer players having to play both offense and defense.

While Shannon’s system will no longer be new to his Badgers, the conference will be. Beebe shifts from the 5A East to the 5A Southeast. Shannon said the new conference will likely feature less speed and less passing than the old one, with Monticello likely to be the “top dog.”

“It’s mostly running teams, so we’ll probably see smashmouth football week in and week out,” he said.

Shannon set the bar high at Beebe after taking the town by storm with his team’s 6-0 start last season. But he said he feels no more pressure than what he feels every year about this time.

“My biggest fear is always to fail,” he admits. “I try to overcome that fear by outworking whoever I’m going up against. The kids have bought into that. As much success as they’ve had in the weight room, they have a lot of confidence. So we have high

“But I told them when we got here, ‘We’re going to have high expectations every year.’”

SPORTS>>Jacksonville moving into 6A quarterfinals

Leader sports editor

TEXARKANA—The Jackson-ville Red Devils advanced to the quarterfinals of the 6A state tournament with a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Sheridan late Friday afternoon.

The Red Devils, who earned a fourth seed in the tourney after posting an 8-6 East Conference record, rallied twice from deficits to move on.

They take on Watson Chapel at noon today.

Trailing 3-1 in the fifth inning, Jacksonville got singles from Cameron Hood and Patrick Castleberry and a game-tying two-run single from Michael Harmon. Seth Tomboli delivered the game-winning hit with an RBI double that scored Harmon.

Harmon pitched the final 2 1/3 innings to pick up the win. He struck out five and allowed just three hits in relief of Tomboli. Tomboli pitched the first 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and three runs.

Sheridan grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Jacksonville came back and cut the lead in half with a Castleberry double and Caleb Mitchell RBI single in the bottom of the third.

The Red Devils finished with 11 hits and stranded eight base runners, including leaving the bases loaded in the second.
The win improved the Red Devils’ overall record to 16-13.

SPORTS>>Lady Panthers earn four seed with twin bill sweep of Belles

Leader sportswriter

Cabot did exactly what it needed to do — close out the conference season strong.

The Lady Panthers won their fourth and fifth games in a row on Tuesday with a sweep over Mt. Saint Mary at Wade Sports Complex. The Lady Panther bats were hot enough during an 8-1 win in Game 1, and a blistering 15-0 run-ruled win for Cabot in the second game secured a spot in the top half of the final Central standings.

The two wins improved the Lady Panthers to 9-9 overall and 8-6 in the 7A-Central Conference. Cabot finished as the No. 4 seed from the Central conference, and began state tournament play at Russellville on Friday evening after Leader deadlineswith a game against Rogers, the No. 5 seed out of the 7A-West Conference.

Lady Panthers coach Becky Steward was relieved to get the wins, saying she was pleasantly surprised by her team’s strong showing at the plate in both contests.

“Mt. Saint Mary was a team that scared me,” Steward said. “Because Bryant only beat them 2-1 the week before. You just never know with the Mount — they’re young just like we are, but I definitely didn’t expect us to go out and hit the way we did in that second game.”

Junior Cherie Barfield earned both wins for Cabot on Tuesday. She struck out 13 MSM batters in the opener while allowing six hits, one of which was an inside-the-park home run to lead off the top of the third inning for the only Belles’ score of the night.

An inside-the-park homer also led to the first Cabot runs of the evening. Three-hole hitter Chelsea Conrade’s shot to centerfield scored Kristi Flesher, who reached on an error moments earlier, to give the Lady Panthers a 2-0 lead.

Another Belle error allowed Rachel Lamb to reach, while walks to Tara Boyd and future Central Baptist College Lady Mustang Ashton Seidl loaded the bases. Becca Bakalekos quickly cleared the bases with a shot to deep left field. All three runners scored, and Bakalekos made it all the way to third for a triple.

The Lady Panthers started back at the top of the order for the second inning, with a similar result. Lead-off Brooke Taylor walked, and Flesher moved her to third with a single. A grounder into left field by Lamb scored both runners, with Lamb coming in for the game’s final run moments later on a single by pinch hitter Kayla Hart.

SPORTS>>Panthers rally to reach state tourney

Leader sportswriter

Little Rock Central’s hopes of pulling a 7A-Central season sweep over Cabot dissipated quickly at the hands of the Panther seniors on Tuesday at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Baseball Field.

The red-hot Panthers entered the 7A state tournament on a 4-game winning streak after beating the Tigers 6-2. Though the streak earned Cabot a berth in the tourney, Pine Bluff’s upset of Conway on Monday cost the Panthers (14-11, 6-8 league) a No. 5 seed. Instead, they took a six seed into their first-round game with Fort Smith Southside yesterday at Burns Park in a game played after Leader deadlines.

The Panthers put up five runs in the first three frames against the Tigers, while senior pitcher Sean Clarkson held Central to a pair of runs through six innings.

Fellow senior Sam Bates faced the final three Tiger batters in the top of the seventh, forcing a pair of pop ups and a strikeout.

For Panthers coach Jay Fitch, it was refreshing to see his talented crop of upperclassmen finally performing at the level they have for the past two weeks.

“We’ve been waiting on that,” Fitch said. “We’vebeen waiting on our seniors to play like seniors. Sean hasn’t had the season he would have liked to have on the mound this year, but he closed out the year with two good outings, and if we win on Friday (against FS Southside), he will probably be on the mound for us on Saturday.”

The winner between Cabot and Southside will face No. 2 seed North Little Rock today at 2:30 p.m.

Clarkson walked the first batter he faced in the top of the first on Tuesday, but fanned the next two Tigers and forced a pop fly from their cleanup hitter to leave the leadoff stranded.

A pair of doubles in the second plated Central’s first run, and they added another in the fifth.

Base hits for lead off batter Matt Evans and two-hole hitter Powell Bryant leading off the first put runners in scoring position, and another single by Drew Burks plated Evans for the first score.

A ground out by Bates scored Bryant for the second run.

It was Evans who kick-started the second Cabot scoring spree in the bottom of the third inning. He led off the inning with his second single of the game. Bryant walked and Bates was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Evans scored on a squeeze play to make it 3-1 and Wainright followed with a two-run single to make it 5-1.

The Panthers scored one more run for insurance in the bottom of the fourth inning before Central changed pitchers.

“I told the kids that it would be great if we could jump on Central,” Fitch said. “They already knew that we swept Catholic the day before, and that there was no hope for them to make it. At that point, we were still in the running for the fifth seed, so we had a lot more to play for than they did.”

Evans led the Panthers, going 3 of 3. Bryant, Burks and Wainwright were each 1 of 3, with two RBI for Wainwright, and one for Burks.

Fitch prepared his club for the possibility of facing Rebels’ ace hurler John Koch in the first round of the state tournament with batting practices that focused on the curve ball.

Koch is noted for the ability to offer up a curve or change-up regardless of the count he faces. Defensively, Fitch is most concerned about 6-3, 265 lb. senior Thomas Biocic.

The Rebels’ most dangerous batter, who was also a three-year starter for the Southside football team at on the defensive line, has recorded a number of big home runs for the Rebels this season during their league runners-up campaign.

SPORTS>>Bears begin quest for Baum today

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills will enter this weekend’s 6A state tournament as the No. 1 seed out of the East after a near-flawless 13-1 run through the league schedule in 2008.

The Bears (26-6 overall) will begin tournament play today, facing the winner of last night’s first-round game between Searcy (East No. 5) and Lake Hamilton (South No. 4).

That impressive run was made even more challenging with tragedy and hardship along the way. Former player Taylor Roark was killed in a car crash in January, and the team lost its baseball field in the tornadoes of March.

But head coach Denny Tipton said the mental toughness of his top-ranked team equals its talent.

“I think we’ve been through a lot this year,” Tipton said. “From what happened with Taylor Roark at the first of the year, to the tornados, to people getting hurt, we’ve had to fight through so much.

“These kids are very tough mentally, and I think they will be prepared. Physically, I fully believe they are as tough and talented as any group we’ve had in the last few seasons. If they play to the best of their abilities, we should have a shot at winning some games.”

Despite the Bears’ immaculate record in the 6A East, the final few games did not feature the offensive firepower of their early league romps. Tipton said clinching the top seed early, along with the nasty weather this spring, led to a few lackluster efforts during late-season outings. He’s hoping that the state tourney will rekindle that early fire.

“Everyone is 0-0 now,” Tiptonsaid. “I know everybody’s plan is to go all the way, and right now, everybody has the same shot everyone else does. I hope we can come out and swing our bats with a little more intensity than what we have recently.

“I know that those final games weren’t very important seed-wise, but we just weren’t playing with a lot of intensity. As a coach, you’re never really satisfied, and there’s always room to improve.”

The Bears are undeniably a potent, well-balanced team. The influx of three Abundant Life transfers to go along with Hunter Miller and an already stout lineup has given them additional depth.

One of those transfers, D.J. Baxendale, has developed into the staff ace and can be nearly unhittable. Miller, the Ole Miss signee who has belted 11 home runs this season, has become an outstanding No. 2 man in the rotation.

But the pitching depth doesn’t stop there. Tipton can also call on Jake Chambers, Chris Dalton or Chris Perez. With the bye, the Bears must win only two games to reach the state championship next Saturday at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville, so pitching depth is not as big a factor. Still, it’s a nice luxury to have.

Defensively, Sylvan Hills couldn’t have been much more solid. Other than a 4-error hiccup against Forrest City in their only conference loss, the Bears have taken care of business in the field, making Baxendale and Miller that much more effective.

The lineup, despite the late season dropoff, features no easy outs.

The Bears have had a lot of ups and downs since their run to the state championship back in 2005. That Class 4A title win over Jonesboro continued a remarkable baseball tradition at Hillside.

But the Taylor Roark tragedy in January, and devastating storms that demolished their home field over a month ago have had the Bears playing with heavy hearts for most of the season.

Tipton says regardless of whether his team plays the Lions or Wolves today at noon at Joe Blagg Field in Texarkana, he expects a tough battle.

“We’ve prepared the same way,” Tipton said. “Searcy already beat us once this year, and I know that Lake Hamilton has some talented players. But I believe these kids will be prepared.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Cabot parks look to new direction

The Cabot Parks and Recreation Department has a new director whose responsibilities will include restoring confidence in the department after a series of embarrassing episodes that cast a shadow over an organization that has done outstanding work.

Larry Tarrant, the new parks director, succeeds Carroll Astin, who resigned recently after a couple of embarrassing disclosures, including the theft of $8,000 by a former bookkeeper who wrote herself duplicate paychecks over a two-year period.

In addition, The Leader disclosed last weekend that State Police investigators are looking into the department’s failure to pay withholding taxes, which could be blamed on the bookkeeper who pleaded guilty to the payroll thefts. (She has agreed to repay the stolen money.)

Parks commission members are hoping the withholding taxes are no more than $13,000, which is a significant amount, although the department could pay that amount, plus penalties and interest, in the next few months. Let’s hope there aren’t other skeletons in the closet yet to be discovered.

The lax oversight occurred during the previous mayor’s administration, so Mayor Eddie Joe Williams is blameless. But he has called for more accountability and Tarrant, who has served as interim director and program director, is trying to put the embarrassing episodes behind and run an open administration with integrity and fiscal responsibility. After all, the missing money belonged to the people of Cabot, who deserve an honest, lean and well-managed parks department that serves the town’s residents and is not a personal piggy bank of the crooked and the greedy.

We’d like to think that with better oversight and a new start, Larry Tarrant will turn Cabot Parks and Recreation into a premier parks and recreation department. Like people everywhere, Cabot folks deserve better.

EDITORIAL >>People helping other people

It only seems to get noticed when some major disaster hits the area, but it’s something we’ve always known and it’s what makes this area special—people helping people. It doesn’t matter if they know you, are their neighbor or not, richer or poorer than you—Arkansans believe in pitching in and helping out. Most of the time it’s the small things. Giving someone a lift, changing a flat tire or loaning someone $10 until payday and then forgetting about it when payday rolls around.

But there are times like this past weekend, when the ingrained kindness and hearts of Arkansans shine bright for everyone to see. It didn’t take but a matter of minutes after tornadoes and high winds ran roughshod over Carlisle and Keo that people were out helping. The help ranged from providing cleanup equipment, a dry place for victims to stay, meals, clearing the damage or sometimes just a hug and kind words.

The Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office provided a mobile command unit. Jacksonville drove a clam-shell dump truck to pick up debris. Churches provided hot meals. Volunteers quickly removed a tree that fell on Alta Snider’s home and covered the gaping hole with tarps. Similar acts of kindness were seen all over town.

A traffic reporter for a Little Rock radio station became a traffic cop protecting drivers from running over downed power lines near Hwy. 13 and 70. He wasn’t asked or told, he just knew it had to be done.

Volunteers and crews from Carlisle and surrounding communities worked through the weekend, and Monday, chainsaws were still whining and spewing sawdust, while tree trunks were turned into firewood and limbs were chipped into mountains of mulch.

The governor, visiting Carlisle, said the recovery process already had begun and praised the quick work of officials and neighbors.

“It’s phenomenal, all the help. People from Lonoke, Little Rock, Cabot, county officials, the Maumelle mayor; people came from everywhere,” Carlisle Mayor Ray Glover said, thankful for all the help.

But, mayor, phenomenal it wasn’t: It was Arkansans doing what they always do — helping people. It’s a wonderful tradition that comes from the heart and it’s practiced in these parts every day.

It’s been tough year, but we continue to pull together. It’s great to be an Arkansan.

TOP STORY > >Building fees in Cabot are left for dead

Leader staff writer

The weighty issue of reinstating Cabot’s impact fee only for the fire department was not mentioned during Thursday’s brief meeting of the city council’s fire and police committee.

Alderman Ken Williams, chairman of the committee, said after the meeting that he was surprised to learn that Mayor Eddie Joe Williams was even considering reinstating part of the fee.

The city council voted 7-1 in April to repeal the 2006 ordinance establishing impact fees to pay for expansions in infrastructure needed because of growth. The council did not even consider a proposal from a committee formed to investigate the impact fee to allow it to double as scheduled but then remain at that rate for 24 months until another funding source could be found.

Alderman Williams said after the 30-minute-long committee meeting with reports on the calls taken by fire and police during the first quarter that he isn’t convinced building another fire sta tion on Hwy. 5 is crucial. The city has purchased a building there to house a fire engine, he said, adding that if it becomes necessary to also staff the engine, the building can be remodeled for that purpose.

Although the city has offers of free land for a fire department, that land might not be suitable for construction, the alderman said.

And without a definite place to build, talk of funding a fire station is “putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

City officials learned in 2006 that the insurance premiums for residents more than five road-miles from the nearest fire station could double or triple.

Acting on advice from Insurance Services Office (ISO), which rates cities’ fire protection for insurance purposes, the city rented a bay at the Mountain Springs Volunteer Fire Department for $200 a month and then early in 2007 paid $259,600 for three acres and buildings on the corner of Hwy. 5 and Mountain Springs and moved an unstaffed engine to that location.

But eventually, the city will have to build another fire station, and that, the mayor says, will cost $1.5 million for the building, $1 million for equipment and $500,000 a year for the firefighters who will staff it.

Alderman Tom Armstrong, who was on the council when the impact fee was approved and was the only alderman who voted against it, said he is opposed to trying to bring back part of the fee and thinks doing so could be illegal.

“I don’t think we can do it,” Armstrong said. “We abolished the whole ordinance from 2006 and I don’t see how we can put part of it back without another study.”

The city hired experts to decide how much the fee should be and which city departments it should go to.

Armstrong agrees with Alder-man Williams that the city should staff the building on Hwy. 5 when it becomes necessary. That building should suffice for several years until new homes are built more than five miles away from it.

By then another funding source might be available, said Armstrong who says if the state legislature approves a 1 percent real estate transfer tax in 2009, the city could gain revenue from the sale of every house in Cabot, not just the new ones. Such a tax would be less than the impact fee but not restrictive so the city could use the revenue wherever it is needed.

TOP STORY > >Building fees in Cabot are left for dead

Leader staff writer

The weighty issue of reinstating Cabot’s impact fee only for the fire department was not mentioned during Thursday’s brief meeting of the city council’s fire and police committee.

Alderman Ken Williams, chairman of the committee, said after the meeting that he was surprised to learn that Mayor Eddie Joe Williams was even considering reinstating part of the fee.

The city council voted 7-1 in April to repeal the 2006 ordinance establishing impact fees to pay for expansions in infrastructure needed because of growth. The council did not even consider a proposal from a committee formed to investigate the impact fee to allow it to double as scheduled but then remain at that rate for 24 months until another funding source could be found.

Alderman Williams said after the 30-minute-long committee meeting with reports on the calls taken by fire and police during the first quarter that he isn’t convinced building another fire sta tion on Hwy. 5 is crucial. The city has purchased a building there to house a fire engine, he said, adding that if it becomes necessary to also staff the engine, the building can be remodeled for that purpose.

Although the city has offers of free land for a fire department, that land might not be suitable for construction, the alderman said.

And without a definite place to build, talk of funding a fire station is “putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

City officials learned in 2006 that the insurance premiums for residents more than five road-miles from the nearest fire station could double or triple.

Acting on advice from Insurance Services Office (ISO), which rates cities’ fire protection for insurance purposes, the city rented a bay at the Mountain Springs Volunteer Fire Department for $200 a month and then early in 2007 paid $259,600 for three acres and buildings on the corner of Hwy. 5 and Mountain Springs and moved an unstaffed engine to that location.

But eventually, the city will have to build another fire station, and that, the mayor says, will cost $1.5 million for the building, $1 million for equipment and $500,000 a year for the firefighters who will staff it.

Alderman Tom Armstrong, who was on the council when the impact fee was approved and was the only alderman who voted against it, said he is opposed to trying to bring back part of the fee and thinks doing so could be illegal.

“I don’t think we can do it,” Armstrong said. “We abolished the whole ordinance from 2006 and I don’t see how we can put part of it back without another study.”

The city hired experts to decide how much the fee should be and which city departments it should go to.

Armstrong agrees with Alder-man Williams that the city should staff the building on Hwy. 5 when it becomes necessary. That building should suffice for several years until new homes are built more than five miles away from it.

By then another funding source might be available, said Armstrong who says if the state legislature approves a 1 percent real estate transfer tax in 2009, the city could gain revenue from the sale of every house in Cabot, not just the new ones. Such a tax would be less than the impact fee but not restrictive so the city could use the revenue wherever it is needed.

TOP STORY > >Three seek District 49 seat

Leader staff writer

Democrats have two choices for House District 49 in the May 20 primaries — Kieth Williams, a former superintendent of Beebe Public Schools who now works fulltime at Harding University, and Johnny Wheetley, a former county extension agent who for the past 20 years has worked as an independent agricultural consultant.

The winner will face Jonathan Dismang, the Republican candidate, in November.

Williams teaches classes in school finance and school facilities in addition to his duties as director of educational leadership, but he says if he wins in the Democratic primary, he will cut back on his duties, and if he wins in November, he will cut back even more.

“Serving in the legislature is a near fulltime responsibility,” Williams said.

Williams, of Beebe, describes himself as a very conservative Democrat.

“I’m pro-life,” Williams said. “I’m very strong on family. I’m opposed to foster parenting for gays and I’m opposed to a state lottery.”

Since Williams’ background is education, he says that is an area that also holds a strong interest for him. But as he has campaigned, he has learned that the volunteer firefighters who protect homes in small cities and rural areas often have trouble raising enough money to operate.

“That’s why you see them holding bake sales and fish fries,” Williams said.

Williams said a uniform method of collecting fees needs to be established.

The 20 or so firefighters who staff most volunteer fire departments devote long hours to training so they are prepared when they are called, he said.

“For the time they put in and their commitment, I think they deserve some assistance in that area,” he said.

Williams said he also has an interest in protecting the rights of landowners who lease their property to gas companies. The industry is so new in the area that it is too soon to tell what problems might surface, he said, so the property owners need people looking out for them at the state level.

Wheetley, of Judsonia, said he became interested in state government while trying to get legislation passed requiring mandatory licensing of independent agricultural consultants. But it was his interest protecting his area from the problems he sees with the growing natural gas industry that made him decide to run for office.

“My theory on it is that the community should benefit from it,” Wheetley said. “If the community doesn’t benefit and we lose our natural resources, what have we gained?”

Wheetley says the severance tax on the gas will help roads all over the state, but schools should also benefit and there should be money, for example, for senior citizens programs.

Mineral rights are complicated, especially in Arkansas, where control of the minerals underground supersedes ownership of the ground they are under, he said. Land owners have leased their mineral rights for less than they could have gotten for them, which is a problem for them. But everyone, not just land owners, could be affected by the problems that accompany drilling and operating gas wells that could number as high as six or eight to a 624-acre section of land, Wheetley said.

The damage to roads from increased traffic and heavy equipment will be significant, he said. Dust on county roads will be worse because of the traffic. But the real problems could come in 30 or 40 years after the gas is no longer profitable and the big companies leave all those wells behind, he said.

There needs to be a plan to ensure that the state doesn’t become an eyesore because of the drilling and there should be a plan to invest some of the money the state gets from the gas companies in businesses developing renewable fuels that will be here after the gas is gone, Wheetley said.

TOP STORY > >Beebe sees destruction from storm in Carlisle

Leader senior staff writer

A pair of National Guard helicopters bearing Gov. Mike Beebe and others touched down at Carlisle Municipal Airport Monday on his whirlwind tour of the latest natural disaster to ravage Arkansans.

Greeted at the airport by state Senator Bobby Glover, state Rep. Lenville Evans, County Judge Charlie Troutman and others, Beebe led a motorcade of officials and reporters on a one-hour tour through the worst of the town’s damage, stopping to inspect the Carlisle Fire Department and a neighborhood where the roof of one home was damaged and another torn off right down to the brick walls.

Speaking from the shaded porch at the Carlisle Police Department, across from the twisted-but-standing shell of the fire department, Beebe said the tornado that tore up houses, uprooted trees, knocked down power poles and sent people scurrying for cover about 1 p.m. Friday apparently was smaller than the twisters earlier in the day that killed seven and tore wider swaths east and south of Carlisle.

“But small or wide, it doesn’t make much difference if you’re in the middle of it,” Beebe said.

Fences were torn up, businesses and homes destroyed or knocked off their foundation blocks or else large trees crashed into homes or were uprooted.

“Lives were turned upside down,” he said, and the terrifying events of the day may stay with some residents forever.


Beebe said Carlisle school children took shelter in tornado safe rooms during the storms and he hoped schools throughout the state would consider tornado shelters when remodeling or building schools.

“Tornadoes are not as wide as floods,” Beebe said, “but they are awfully intense.”

He praised the television and radio stations that pinpointed the path of the storm and gave five or 10 minutes warning of approaching storms and tornadoes.

“Just enough to save lives,” the governor added.

He said the recovery process already had begun and praised the quick work of officials and neighbors.

Beebe reminded reporters that he had been critical of FEMA’s slow response to the Dumas tornado in February, but this time around, he said, “they were calling us before we even had time to call them.”

Beebe praised the resiliency of residents in towns torn asunder.

“I don’t think FEMA has left the state since February,” he said.

Ironically, the same storms that have caused so much damage throughout the state this year have also kept builders busy in an otherwise sluggish economy.

He said that President Bush had called twice this year to see if there was anything the federal government could do.


“They are all pretty hopeful, almost to a person. All they lost were houses and possessions and they are ready to get started building back,” the governor said.

He said insurance companies and agents have been helpful and attentive but that if anyone needed help with the companies, the governor’s office and the state Insurance Commission could help.

The governor stopped to talk to Mike Hardke, who was moving possessions from his home, the roof and rafters of which were nowhere in sight. Hardke, who said he took shelter in the master bedroom away from the storm, was expecting a check Monday from his insurance agent.

Including the fire station and the old train depot, Friday’s tornado damaged about two dozen homes, destroying maybe a quarter of them, according to Brent Doney, a volunteer fireman, deputy sheriff and nurse who served as the incident commander at the time of the tornado. He said the tornado siren worked.


Volunteers and crews from Carlisle and surrounding communities worked through the weekend, and Monday, chainsaws were still whining and spewing sawdust, while tree trunks were turned to firewood and limbs were chipped into a mountain of mulch.

There were no injuries or deaths caused by the tornado, although there was one minor chainsaw-related injury and a heat problem for one person, Doney said.

Doney, who is also a Carlisle alderman, said crews from CenturyTel and Entergy worked through the weekend and Monday to restore service. All electrical service had been restored except lines to individual damaged homes, he said.

He estimated that Entergy had 50 crews on hand. They also helped put the communications tower back up for the police and fire departments. In the interim, the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office brought its mobile command center, which provided communications.

A Centerpoint Crew stood by at a home being demolished to cut the gas off. Stuttgart sent a dump truck and a hydraulic clamshell truck to pick up limbs and debris. They had shut off three or four gas leaks in the immediate aftermath of the tornado.


Jacksonville sent a clam-shell dump truck, operated by Sandy Poe and Steve Medlin.

The Red Cross was providing food for workers, Doney said.

Others providing equipment or manpower in the tornado’s wake were Prairie County—dump trucks and deputies—the Hazen
Police Department, the Lonoke Sheriff’s Office, Lonoke Office of Emergency Management, the England Police Department, the Cabot Police Chief and some officers and a pair of dump trucks and a chipper from the city of Lonoke.

McRrae sent fire and police help, Oak Grove sent some volunteer fire men and Center Point also provided the sue of a back hoe and a dump truck.

Carlisle had recently bought a generator, so Road and Water Superintendent Richard Sumner was able to keep water pressure up and was able to pump water up into its towers, meaning that residents never went without drinking water, nor were they under a boil order, Doney said.

Sumner also coordinated the heavy equipment that was used to help.

The state Correction Depart-ment sent 32 inmates, dressed in their usual white prison garb, to help with the cleanup.

Doney said he thought only one person needed emergency shelter, spending the evenings at Immanuel Baptist Church. He said the church also was feeding people.

The southeast corner of Glover’s office, which is the old railroad depot, was destroyed.

“There wasn’t a trampoline left in town,” Doney said.

TOP STORY > >Health study aimed at youth

Leader editor

Concerned Jacksonville residents have devoted themselves to discussing the state of children’s health, and their ideas will potentially be used to help improve young people’s lives across the state.

The project, part of the statewide Study Circles network, is a community effort to find ways to improve the health of children.

“Jacksonville was selected as one of five communities across the state to participate in the study,” said Kristen Burton of North Metro Medical Center, who served as coordinator for the Jacksonville site. The Jacksonville Health Coalition, the Arkansas School Boards Association and the Arkansas Natural Wonders Partnership collaborated on the effort.

Jacksonville Study Circle members — including Karen Cunningham of the Department of Health, Patricia Henderson, director of the Jacksonville Health Unit, and Dana Rozenski of the Jacksonville Parks Department — created action plans for Jacksonville.

The initiative began with a report released last year on children’s health across the state.

“The goal of the project is assist in developing plans of action to improve the state of children in Arkansas,” Connie Whitfield of the Arkansas School Boards Associa-tion said. “Jacksonville was the site chosen to represent the Central Arkansas Public Health Region.”

“Jacksonville as a community and site of this Study Circles discussion… really got it and took the extra step to ensure that they, the community began working on local actions for improvement to the lives of Jacksonville residents,” Whitfield added.

Ideas and suggestions that resulted from the meetings will be used to begin planning for statewide changes for children.

“To find long-term solutions, we must begin with a safe and productive process that will help us talk about how families can partner with the community to help them shape the health and well being of its children and their families,” Burton said.

The group first defined problems families face in Jacksonville and then worked to find ways to solve them to help families be healthy.

Jacksonville Study Circle drafted an action plan to achieve this goal. This includes writing letters to local politicians about advocating expanding coverage to the uninsured, specifically college-age students ages 18-25 and parents who are making above the maximum income to qualify for ArKids First but do not make enough to afford private insurance.

The Study Circles members also pledged to help support the local police program Police and Kids Together by providing staff for the end-of-summer cookout at the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and helping find sponsors for the program.

Members also discussed having a Jacksonville health resource guide available to be distributed at fairs, expos, and clinics and through the Jacksonville Health Coalition. A local fitness challenge may also be organized, similar to the Lonoke County fitness challenge.

“As followup, the participants and other invited guests have met to form a committee to look at ways to address the action ideas listed during the Study Circles discussion as ways for the community to begin making improvements for the children and their families in the Jacksonville community,” Whitfield said.

Members will follow up on these ideas and work to involve other people in Jacksonville.

FROM THE PUBLISHER > >Tornado gets too close for comfort

Sen. Bobby Glover was in his car early Friday afternoon when a storm roared into Carlisle.

He was just a couple of blocks away from the old railroad depot on Main Street, where he has his insurance office, and he was worried about his daughter Robin and was desperate to find her.

“It lasted about 15 to 20 seconds,” Glover recalled Sunday. “I’m thankful to the good Lord I’m still here.”

The twister continued behind him, hitting several homes in the northeast part of town. It had plowed through Hwy. 70, damaging several homes and businesses there.

The Little Rock TV stations had warned area residents that the tornado was in their path, and many went to the safest spots they could find in their homes. Others, like Glover, had hoped they could ride out the storm.

“It’s amazing how quiet it gets afterward,” Glover said.

The good news was that his daughter and her mother were safe in the basement of the First Methodist Church, where many of the town’s residents had taken shelter.

In front of him, he could now see his office was badly hit, and farther down the street, the back of the fire station was ripped off.

But across the street, none of the old downtown buildings were hit.

When the tornado approached downtown, Carlisle Mayor Ray Glover, the senator’s cousin, was looking out the window where the municipal offices are located in a couple of storefronts on Main Street.

“If it had moved across the street, it would have wiped out downtown,” the mayor said Sunday afternoon.

He was still getting calls on his cell phone from residents who needed help clearing their homes and yards.

Crews were taking tree limbs from people’s yards to the outskirts of town, where they were burned in a pile of other debris.

You could see the smoke from I-40 a couple of miles away.

The mayor said Jacksonville and Stuttgart were sending clamp trucks that are used for picking up yard waste, which should help with the cleanup.

Glover was grateful for all the help the town was getting from its neighbors: The Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department let Carlisle use a new mobile command center. The South Bend Volunteer Fire Department also helped out after Carlisle’s fire station was hit.

Immanuel Baptist Church of Carlisle and Lonoke Presbyterian Church fed people all weekend along with volunteers from St. Rose Catholic in Carlisle.

“We’re not doing anything Carlisle wouldn’t do for us,” said Alex Fletcher, a Lonoke church member. The Lonoke church sends members all over the state during a disaster. They’re usually there before FEMA arrives and stay long after FEMA is gone.

Glover was grateful no one was injured and grateful also that Gov. Mike Beebe flew in on Monday to view the damage.

Beebe’s old legislative colleague, Sen. Glover, was there to greet him. Glover has been mayor, state representative and state senator for 30 years – his cousin has been mayor for just over a year — and the veteran politician can’t run again because he’s term-limited, but the veteran politician was pressing Beebe to line up funds to repair the damage.

The old depot stands where Glover used to take the Rock Island line to Little Rock on class trips.

The tracks are covered up and no train stops there anymore, but if you look around, Carlisle is not much different than it was 60 years ago, except for the tornado damage. People haven’t changed much either. They’re still down home. It may take a while to rebuild some of the worst-hit homes and businesses, but the town will be fixed up before the year’s over.

TOP STORY > >People reach out after storms

Leader staff writers

When the small town of Carlisle was hit by a tornado last Friday, friends and neighbors in the area gathered together and quickly set up their own disaster-relief center and feeding stations.

In a demonstration of true Christian charity and interdenominational bonhomie, the folks at Carlisle’s Immanuel Baptist Church, First Methodist Church and St. Rose’s Catholic Church and a large group of volunteers from Lonoke Presbyterian Church, gathered their forces together to feed and nourish those affected by the storm, as well as those who came to Carlisle to help by cutting up downed trees and limbs, clearing lots and gathering debris.

Emmett Powers, pastor of Lonoke Presbyterian Church, said, “It’s a real joy to do this and give hope to people who’ve been through so much.”

He said his church volunteers, who arrived in a mobile feeding-station truck equipped with tables, chairs, a long canopy, cooking equipment and utensils, can feed 100 to 150 people an hour.

“Three hundred meals in a day is typical for this group,” he said, as Alex Fletcher, Shane Hamilton and Bill Shinn stirred up an industrial-sized pot of mashed potatoes to accompany the hundred or so pork chops they were preparing for supper. (See editorial, p. 14A.)
The truck was purchased with $25,000 donated by St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Minnesota. Powers and a group of volunteers from his church have shown up to help each time this year a tornado has struck in Arkansas — Mountain View, Clinton, Atkins, Damascus and Gassville.

The group has also responded in areas that were flooded this spring.

Powell said Lutheran Social Services (which donated the money for the truck) often stays on the scene of a disaster long after FEMA has left, said Powers, who serves as director of the disaster response team for the Arkansas Presbytery.

He thanked Bill Cunningham and other volunteers who came to help from St. Rose’s.
Immanuel Baptist opened its doors to help those left without shelter and prepared food for those who needed to eat.


Carlisle was left without power after the storm and because of downed lines, power was not restored until Saturday evening. A nighttime curfew imposed Friday night was lifted Sunday morning.

National Weather Service radar and professional tornado watchers alerted the town in plenty of time for everyone to take cover. Three tornadoes were sighted, but only one touched down inside Carlisle.

In the 25 years that Carlisle Police Chief Eric Frank has lived in town, he hadn’t been through a tornado, even though the city is in the part of Arkansas referred to by natives as “tornado alley.” That changed on Friday when the F1 storm blew through town at more than 100 miles per hour. No one was injured.

Alderman Brent Doney, the city’s emergency manager, said the storm which came in just before 1 p.m., was four city blocks wide, cutting a path a mile across the city from southwest to the northeast just nicking the edge of the school’s awning as it left town.

“At 12:15, I saw a tornado come up over town, a narrow rope that never hit,” Doney said.

Then 30 or 40 minutes later, he saw a “rain-wrapped huge circle” with windspeeds he guessed were the equivalent of an F1 or F2 storm come in at the southwest corner of Carlisle cutting a path of damage which included the city’s fire station and a business at the corner of Hwy. 70 and Greenlaw. The business, an automotive garage, may be a total loss.


Doney said he suspects the fire station will need to be rebuilt as the tornado bent and twisted the structure’s supporting beams. When the warnings came in, Doney said firemen scattered the trucks throughout the city to prevent damage.

Doney said everyone was grateful there were no injuries in spite of extensive damage and he commended Lonoke Presbyterian Church volunteers who, he said, “rolled in right away.”

Carlisle Police Chief Eric Frank said that he didn’t hear the tornado, didn’t hear the train sound. His main concern was getting the students out of the school once the tornado passed and left downed trees and power lines in its wake. “We got them out.

Thankfully, it went right over the school,” he said.

Three hours after the tornado hit, the chief and Doney had a command post set up in the middle of Main Street in front of the damaged Carlisle Fire Department.

Kathy Zasimovich from the office of emergency management in Lonoke was already there and volunteer disaster teams from Cabot were out with chainsaws to cut up trees that had fallen on houses. “We had to tell them to stop cutting up the trees,”

Zasimovich said. “The power company shut down the electricity to the area in Little Rock, but would not say it’s safe until they are able to come out themselves.”


Henry McDonald of Cabot was sitting on a tree that had fallen over his mother-in-law’s home.

“I had to come down quick. My son was in that school,” he said, pointing to a red-headed boy. “This tree would’ve been gone if they hadn’t stopped those guys with the chainsaws. But we’re lucky. Only the carport was damaged.”

At 6 a.m. Saturday, Carlisle awoke to the sound of chainsaws. Crews from West Tree Service and Entergy arrived and got to work.

“We’re not positive that everything is dead,” said Ricky Felton, West Tree Service crew chief. “You have to be careful of backfeed. A tree could lay across a dead wire and a live wire, and that will make the dead wire live too. We get in there as soon as the power guys tell us it’s safe.”

Chris Hunt agreed with his boss and said, “And we can turn on the power as we go as soon as we get things cleared and rewired.”

As he spoke, Larry McKinny started his chainsaw and started to work on a downed tree, sawdust fanning in an arc.

Police Chief Eric Frank was on traffic duty, directing cars away from the Entergy crew that was running new wire across Court St. with two cherry pickers. Mitch Duncan would attach the wiring to his post, then Wayne Wright would attach his side and fasten everything down.

“This is the third time I’ve been called out for tornadoes,” said Thomas Bynum, an Entergy lineman who lives in Hot Springs.

“This time, I was told to pack for five,” meaning he could expect to be on this particular job for five days.

Back at the command post, Zasimovich pointed out the progress made so far. “That huge pile of wood chips over there was done by the inmates from the Tucker detention center. There are 50 trucks from the tree service and Entergy here restoring the power. I’m here to help if there is anything they need that they don’t have.”


Carlisle Mayor Ray Glover sat down at a picnic table Saturday and looked down his city’s Main Street.

“There’s no business as usual here,” he said.

“The hardest hit was the Eastwood Subdivision, Third and Fourth Streets, and Second all in the middle of town. A third of the town is without power,” Glover said Saturday.

“The fire station may have to be torn down and rebuilt because of bent support beams. Thankfully, the school wasn’t damaged at all.”

Driving through East-wood, Zasimovich pointed out the areas hardest hit. “One home’s roof was lifted off and set down right in its back yard,” she said. “We can’t get to it now, there’s trees blocking the road. You have to see it to believe it. ”

“The governor and FEMA will be here on Monday and we can start getting things back together. FEMA will help us get the town’s infrastructure back together and help the people too,” Glover said from Carlisle’s command post.

“There are a lot of people I’d like to thank, “ the mayor said. “Those I’ve already mentioned and the rest on this list.”

Caroline Baptist Disaster Relief, Presbyterian Relief Ministry, the city of Lonoke, the Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief, Des Arc
Police and Fire, the England police, Faith Baptist Church, the Hazen police and Mayor Mike Watson of Maumelle were among others Glover mentioned.

“We’ll be back to business as usual because of them,” he said.

SPORTS>>Panthers storm back twice to stun No. 2 Catholic

Leader sportswriter

They took it as far down to the wire as humanly possible, but the Cabot Panthers managed to pull out two huge wins over Little Rock Catholic on Monday night.

The 11-5 and 9-8 decisions for the Panthers over the second-ranked Class 7A Rockets not only guarantees them a spot in the state playoffs starting this Friday, it keeps head coach Jay Fitch’s streak of non-losing seasons intact after nine years at Cabot.

A win over Central last night, and a Conway win over Pine Bluff will give the Panthers a No. 5 seed, but the doubleheader wins over Catholic guarantees Cabot at least a No. 6 seed, regardless of how Tuesday’s action played out.

Cabot (13-11 overall, 5-8 league) had to rally in both games after giving up early leads to the Rockets, but two of the best pitching performances of the season for the Panthers from a pair of sophomores held Catholic scoreless in the final three innings of both games.

“These were really big wins for us,” Fitch said. “It’s been an up-and-down year for us. We had some rough games early [in conference play], but hopefully, we’re peaking at the right time. We have played well for the last few weeks.

“It would have been easy to get down like we did and say, OK, it’s the second- or third-ranked team in thestate, and given up, but give these kids credit, they never folded.”

Tyler Erickson improved his record to 2-1 with the complete-game win in Game 1. Erickson gave up three runs in the second inning when a single into center by the Rockets scored two, and a sacrifice fly made it 4-0.

After that, it was mostly smooth sailing for the young hurler, as he gave up only one more run in the fourth inning.

The Panthers faced a 4-0 deficit heading into the third inning, but a walk to Jeremy Wilson and a single by Jackson Chism began a Cabot rally. Drew Burks followed with a three-run homer to bring the Panthers to within 4-3.

Singles by Chad Bryant, Wilson Matt Evans to start out the fourth, and a double by Chism scored two runs, and a run-scoring single by Burks scored another to put the Panthers up 6-3.

Cabot held onto its narrow lead until the sixth inning, when a three-run home run by Sam Bates gave the Panthers a cushion.

The Panthers put up two more runs in the top of the seventh inning for good measure to earn Erickson the win.

It took a trio of Panther pitchers to down the Catholic in the nightcap. Sophomore Matt Evans had a solid night on the mound until the top of the fourth, when the Rocket bats picked up steam. Senior Josh Brown came in to try and ease the Catholic rally, but a seven-run spree for the Rockets against Evans and Brown forced Cabot to go with yet another sophomore in C.J. Jacoby.

The southpaw proved up to task, earning his first varsity win with three innings of shutout baseball.

“I’m so proud of him,” Fitch said. “C.J. is one of those guys who works his tail off to get better. He’s done a great job for us during JV games this year, but to come in and get your first varsity win under those circumstances, that’s big.”

After Catholic’s big inning, Cabot answered with five runs of its own to stay within a run, and a two-strike home run by Turner in the top of the fifth tied the game at 8-8.

The winning run scored in the top of the sixth when Burgan beat out an infield hit to drive in Burks.

SPORTS>>Searcy boys, girls repeat as state champs

Leader sportswriter

Another year, another state title sweep for Searcy soccer.

The Lions avenged their only 6A-East Conference loss of the season with a 3-1 win over Mountain Home on Saturday in the state championship game at LadyBack Field. The Lady Lions did what they have done all year — shut down a stout Jonesboro team for their fourth and biggest win of the year over the Lady Hurricane, 5-0, to secure their second state crown in as many years.

“We’re losing some great seniors,” Lions coach Jeff Davis said. “They were big leaders for us, so it will be a challenge to fill everyone’s shoes, but I think these kids are up for the challenge. It is difficult to winw one state championship, let alone two, so I am very proud of what these kids have accomplished.”

Girls coach Cindy Emfinger was every bit as proud. Rachel Maina scored four goals for Searcy to take home MVP honors, but Emfinger insisted it took every one to pull of the feat.

“We had 32 girls this season,” she said. “And everyone of them had something unique to offer to the team. There were some that may not have been the fastest or the strongest or had the most skill, but every one combined to give us a great team effort all year.”

The Bombers struck first on Saturday, taking an early 1-0 lead before freshman Steven Seitz took an assist from Spencer May to tie the game before intermission. The second half was all Searcy, as Kiefer Keichline and May each scored in the final 40 minutes for the Lions, while senior goalkeeper Ryan Wilburn earned MVP honors by holding the MH strikers at bay.

The only Bomber goal in the game came on a free kick. Wilburn thought the kicker was offsides, and therefore did not put up a complete attempt at blocking.

“Ryan knew he made a mistake,” Davis said. “He hesitated, and it cost us a goal, but he shut them down in the second half. He ended up with some pretty big stops. They had two or three other opportunities, but he was solid.”

Team captain Wilburn is one of nine departing seniors, eight of whom had starting spots on the team this year. Davis says the rebuilding process won’t be easy, but said he thinks there is adequate talent to replace the departing team members.

Searcy’s success last season was off the radar for much of the year, but Davis said taking everyone’s best shot and still prevailing makes this season’s title even sweeter.

“We knew we were going into the season with a target on our backs,” Davis said. “We had to take everyone’s best game, and we had to fight for the win no matter who we were taking on. The second title is always harder to win than the first one, but these kids fought all year long.”

The Lady Lions’ defense thwarted all but three Jonesboro attempts. The midfielder combo of Brittany Falcinelli and Caleigh Woodruff kept the Lady Hurricane strikers out of the scoring zones, and allowed Searcy to control tempo most of the night. For the few attempts that got by the duo, Emfinger said Elizabeth Naglak was there for additional stops.

“They didn’t have many shots,” Emfinger said. “Our defense was solid. Jonesboro is a well-coached team, very aggressive. We expected them to put us on our heels early.”

Maina’s hat trick gave the Lady Lions a comfortable lead early on, and a second-half goal by McKenzie Clark ended up as the only non-Maina score of the game, before the tourney MVP closed out the season by putting one more in the net.

SPORTS>>Jacksonville rallies, then sweeps

Leader sports editor

On the calendar, it took nearly a month for Jacksonville to erase a 4-run deficit to West Memphis.

In actual game time, it was 2/3 of an inning and seven batters. The Red Devils rallied from a 6-2 hole to win a suspended game, 11-8, on Monday night at Dupree Park.

The Red Devils concluded the sweep with an 11-2 win in the second game to secure a No. 4 seed in this weekend’s 6A state tournament in Texarkana. Jacksonville (15-13 overall, 8-6 in the 6A-East) will take on Sheridan, the No. 5 seed from the South at 3 p.m. on Friday.

“Our No. 1 goal was to make the playoffs,” said Jacksonville head coach Larry Burrows. “Seeding is nice, but if you’re not No. 1 or 2, it doesn’t make any difference. What’s important is that we’re playing well.”

Michael Harmon picked up the win in the opener, throwing three innings and striking out six, while allowing three hits and two runs. The game, suspended by rain on April 8, picked up in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Red Devils having two on and no one out.

Terrell Brown was hit with a pitch to load the bases, and Cameron Hood hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-3.

Patrick Castleberry and Caleb Mitchell then delivered two-out singles to tie the game at 6. Brown ripped an RBI double to the fence in left-center one inning later to give Jacksonville a 7-6 lead. West Memphis tied it in the sixth, but the Red Devils took advantage of three walks and a hit batsman in the sixth to score four runs. Castleberry had an RBI double and Mitchell a run-scoring single.

The Red Devils had ample opportunity to bust open the nightcap early, but couldn’t take full advantage of West Memphis’ generosity. Despite receiving four walks, two errors and a hit batsman, Jacksonville led only 3-0 after two innings. The big hit was Jason Regnas’ 2-run single in the second.

Seth Tomboli took the mound for Jacksonville and pitched hitless ball over three innings, though he walked two and hit another. Brown’s 3-run double in the third opened the lead to 6-0, and Hood made it 7-0 in the fourth after a double, an error and a wild pitch.

Burrows opted to give his other pitchers some work and lifted Tomboli after three innings in favor of Regnas. Regnas struggled with his control, and a pair of walks and a triple cut the lead to 7-2 in the fifth.

A heads-up play in the inning kept West Memphis from drawing closer. Caleb Mitchell threw out a runner at first, and Regnas, who had returned to first base in favor of reliever Noah Sanders, threw home to catch the West Memphis player in a rundown along the third-base line. Red Devil catcher Patrick Castleberry threw him out trying to retreat to third base.

It was a big play because the next two Blue Devils singled. Jacksonville got those runs back in the sixth, thanks largely to more West Memphis wildness. The Blue Devils issued two more of their 11 walks ahead of Tomboli’s 2-run double. Tomboli scored on a passed ball to make it 10-2.

“We expected a lot coming into this season, but at times, we were playing three freshmen,” Burrows said. “When [freshman] Logan Perry went down, we had to readjust some. Then we lost a pitcher.

“Now, you look back, and you’re glad maybe things weren’t clicking as good early. It made them a little tougher.”
As for Sheridan, Burrows is quite familiar with them, he said.

“We play them every summer, and Coach Mike Moore does a great job,” Burrows said. “They do it with pitching and defense and they scratch runs out. We’re going to have to execute.”

SPORTS>>Going to Kansas City

Leader sports editor

Robert Dacus says he knew from the time Weston Dacus was in fourth grade that he was going to play in the National Football League some day.

Maybe it was his son’s intensity or his single-mindedness. Maybe it was the fact he could be heard upstairs in his bedroom shouting at the TV during NFL highlights, or that he taped his ankles for Pee Wee games … just like the pros do. Or the fact that, even in high school, he would forgo a night with friends to watch and re-watch film from that weekend’s Searcy game.

“He’s been saying, ‘I’m going to play in the NFL’ since he was 10 years old,” Robert says.

So, yeah, there was reason to think he might just make it to the big time, especially after the Arkansas Razorback middle linebacker led his team in total tackles over the past two seasons.

It was a week ago Sunday that Robert began to have some doubts about Weston’s dream. Robert and Weston and the entire Dacus clan, along with a couple of Weston’s best friends, gathered at the house of Weston’s older brother, Joe, to watch the draft that weekend and to hopefully hear Weston’s name called. And, barring that, to hear Weston’s phone ring with a free agent offer from a team.


Neither happened.

“We were all a little long-faced when we got in our cars to leave on Sunday,” Robert admits. “You could tell Weston was disappointed.”

Weston’s agent, Storm Kirschenbaum, told Robert that free agents weren’t in as big of demand this season with the demise of the European football league. In fact, free agent signings as of Sunday were somewhere around 100, down from 500 or more in previous seasons.

Still, Weston had just put on an impressive show at Pro Day in Fayetteville, a performance that moved him well up the charts for middle linebackers – from the mid-40s to as high as No. 12 in some rating services.

Robert says he was certain that if any NFL team got a look at his talented boy – the All-State running back from Searcy, the second-leading tackler for the Razorbacks in each of the past two seasons – he was a certainty to be drafted.

“I felt pretty much in my heart that if anybody put eyes on him, and he got to do his thing, he’d get his shot,” Robert says.

Weston finally got that chance last weekend, when he attended the Kansas City Chiefs minicamp, an event specifically designed forunsigned free agents to show their stuff.

And that’s what Weston did.

“I had one of the best practices I’ve ever had,” Weston says of Thursday’s camp, the first of three straight days of tryouts. “I didn’t want to talk too much about it at first, because I was afraid I might jinx myself. But I noticed the defensive coordinator giving me some pointers, and paying attention to me.”

What really got Weston’s hopes up, though, was when the coaches started calling him by his name and not his number.


When they did finally call his number again, it was his cell phone. The call came less than 30 minutes after the camp ended on Saturday, as Weston was heading back to Fayetteville.

“‘How would you like to be a Kansas City Chief?’” Weston says he recalls the person on the other end asking. “I told them I’d be honored and privileged.”

On Monday afternoon, the 6-1, 237-pound Weston Dacus signed a two-year deal with the Chiefs – a team which didn’t draft a linebacker this season and which has a 7-year veteran at the middle linebacker spot. As of press time on Tuesday, no particulars of the contract had been worked out between Kirschenbaum and the Chiefs.

Even more impressive, Dacus was one of only three players from the Chiefs’ minicamp to receive a free agent contract.

The deal concluded a fairly tumultuous ride for the Dacuses after several teams, including Indianapolis, New England and the New York Jets, among others, had flirted with Weston over the previous months.

“Indianapolis called the Sunday night of the draft,” Robert says. “They told us that Weston would be the very next free agent to be offered, but the roster was full. Storm told them they better do something because he’s fixing to go to Kansas City.”

Robert says as many as nine or 10 teams were high on Weston and he says Houston Nutt told him an additional five or six teams were calling him asking about Weston.

Storm Kirschenbaum says he started paying attention to Weston in his junior season, but he didn’t actually go watch him play until this year’s Cotton Bowl. It was there he became aware of Weston’s potential.


“He called me on my cell phone at the game and said, ‘I need to talk to you,’” Robert recalls. “He said, ‘I had no idea how fast he was.’”

At that point, the Dacuses were still very much undecided on an agent, though they had been in contact with Kirschenbaum for the past month or so. Robert, Weston, and Kirschenbaum sat down to discuss Weston’s future.

“I thought Weston might be more comfortable talking to Storm alone so [Robert’s wife] Nancy and I left after about an hour,” Robert says. “When we came back in the room, Weston was saying, ‘Where do I sign?’

“I said, ‘Whoa!’ and Weston said, ‘Dad, this is the guy. He’s straightforward and truthful.’”

That admiration is mutual. Kirschenbaum, who works for Metis Sports Management out of Detroit, says he fell in love with Weston almost immediately.

“It feels like I’ve known him [a long time],” Kirschenbaum says. “I fell in love with the entire family. When you’ve had a little experience in this industry, you get vibes from kids, and Weston’s personality fits the mold of an NFL linebacker. I could see him making an impact on special teams right away.”

And Kirschenbaum doesn’t stop there.

“I see him becoming a mainstay at Kansas City. I could see him as a Pro Bowl player one day.”

Robert says Kirschenbaum stressed Weston’s character to the NFL teams he contacted.

“He was telling them this is the kind of kid you want on your team,” Robert says. “He’s never going to loaf, never going to get in trouble, never going to quit on you. He’s all about football.”

Though Weston started two years at middle linebacker for a Razorback team that reached as high as No. 4 in the nation in 2006, his ranking in the draft languished around 40 or lower as Draft Day neared. But his agent had sent him to a training camp in Nashville to work on various aspects of his game … and it paid off.


At Pro Day in Fayetteville on March 28, Weston improved his 40-yard-dash time to 4.58, his vertical leap to 37 ½ inches, and his broad jump to 10 feet, 2 inches. His shuttle drill time was the fastest in the nation among middle linebackers. Robert says the Nashville camp was “a lot of money well spent.”

That Pro Day showing quickly moved Weston up the charts of middle linebacker draft prospects, but Kirschenbaum said the timing couldn’t have been worse, that it was difficult to get Weston much exposure.

It also didn’t help that the demand for linebackers was not particularly high in this year’s draft.

“My feeling initially was that Weston wouldn’t get drafted and that he would sign a free agent deal,” Robert says. “But when he started moving up on the ratings on the Internet, people were predicting the sixth or seventh round.”

Which was why when Sunday came and went, Robert was left feeling puzzled and concerned. Robert says Nancy called Weston later that evening and told him that everything happens for a reason, that this was not over by a long shot.

After Weston got word from the Chiefs on Sunday that they wanted him on the team, he called Nancy to confirm her earlier sentiments.

“He told her, ‘Nancy, you were right,’” Robert says. “’There’s no better place for me to be than Kansas City. This is where I need to be.’”

Now, Robert and company will be heading to Kansas City on Sundays. The Searcy optometrist had grown used to taking off Fridays in the fall the past four years to watch Weston and the Razorbacks play each weekend.

“Now, instead of Fridays, I’ll be taking Mondays off,” he said. “We’re going to go watch our son play in the NFL.”