Friday, October 10, 2008

TOP STORY > >Victim’s body is identified, more sought

Leader senior staff writer

The woman whose remains were recently found near the Wright Cabinet shop in Jacksonville has been identified as Sandra Ann Givens of White County, who would have been 32 at the time of her murder a year ago. So far law-enforcement officials have nothing to say regarding as many as 14 other murders allegedly committed by the same suspects in at least two other states, according to Lt. Matt Rice of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office.

George Alan Smith, 33, of Jacksonville has been charged in Pulaski County with capital murder in connection with Givens’ death, but the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office is the lead agency in the larger investigation based on information from a Jacksonville informant, currently awaiting trial in the Faulkner County Jail on two other counts of murder.

Weeks after The Leader named Ronald Dean Charles, 31, as the informant and possible serial killer, officials now confirm that identification. Charles, who has a Cabot address and was raised in Jacksonville, told Faulkner County investigators that he was involved in as many as 15 murders. He implicated Smith in Givens’ murder and may have implicated Smith or others in other deaths.

Charles and Troy Allen Crook, 29, of 2716 Moro Lane, Jacksonville, are awaiting trial in connection with the April 9, 2008 murders of cousins Bobby Don Brock, 45, and Lonnie Franklin Brock, 62.

In addition to two capital murder charges, Charles and Crook each face a bevy of other charges related to the Brock killings.
Charles reportedly helped lead officials to Givens’ body, and law- enforcement officials from several jurisdictions, including the State Police and the FBI, are involved in checking out his claims to have murdered many others.

Smith, who was apparently identified by Charles in connection with Givens’ murder, is in the Pulaski County Jail.

Jacksonville Police have not released details of Givens’ murder or proposed a motive, according to April Kiser, a spokesman.

Givens’ family reported her missing to the White County Sheriff’s Office Oct. 6, 2007, Kiser said.

Givens’ remains were recovered Sept. 25 and the state Crime Lab identified her through dental records on Thursday.

Her family is caring for her three young sons, William, Brandon and Johnny, “who meant the world to her,” according to a statement from her sister, Beverly Stills.

“We hope to shelter them from some of the intense pain and hurt we all are experiencing,” according to Sills’ statement.

“We wish to thank the (Jack-sonville) Police Department for their professionalism in clarifying the circumstances surrounding Sandra’s murder,” Sills said in her statement.

The Givens Family Assistance Fund has been started at the Bank of America, with all donations going directly to the children, Sills said.

“We’re trying to get the Jack-sonville one out of the way,” said Rice of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Department, “before moving on to other things.”

He said his office believes both Smith and Charles were involved in Givens’ death.

Smith was reportedly slated to be a witness for the prosecution when Charles and Crook stand trial for the murder of the Brocks.

TOP STORY > >Beebe animal shelter will start euthanizing

Leader staff writer

For about two years, Beebe Animal Control working with a rescue group in Texas has shipped to states in the east most of the unwanted dogs picked up in Beebe. As a result, about 350 dogs have found new homes and the city has the reputation of running a no-kill shelter.

But during a special council meeting Thursday night, Mayor Mike Robertson got the council’s blessings to change that perception.

Although no firm date has been set for euthanizations to start, the mayor told the council that the shelter is currently holding roughly twice the dozen dogs that can comfortably be housed there and Horace Taylor, the animal control officer, has refused to pick up dogs when residents call.

Robertson explained that the dogs must be certified healthy before they can be shipped out of state but with the close quarters at the shelter there is no room to quarantine sick animals.

So if one comes in with an infec tion, more become infected; shipping is delayed, and the shelter becomes overfilled.

Robertson said that although he supports the concept of rescuing dogs rather than euthanizing them, medical experts have told him that euthanization is the best plan until a better shelter is built.

The city council has agreed that a new shelter should be constructed in the spring with the proceeds from the city 1.8 mil real estate tax, which should bring in $50,000 to $60,000.

The mayor told the council that he has been reluctant to discuss problems at the shelter because it is a delicate one with the potential of causing problems for the city.

For about four months, he has been monitoring Internet sites where Beebe Animal Control is discussed and he knew from those sites that the situation was becoming volatile.

The volunteers who work to rescue impounded dogs and find new homes for them in the east have exaggerated the poor conditions at the shelter when soliciting donations, he said.

On Thursday, he fired a part- time worker at the shelter after she emailed the director of the Beebe Chamber of Commerce criticizing the city for not building the shelter now.

Her job was to work 19 hours a week cleaning the cages, not “saying when things should be done and how they should be done,” Robertson said.

He also warned the council that euthanizing dogs could potentially bring the wrath of animal-rights advocates down on the city, but the council backed his decision to proceed as necessary.

“I just wanted you to know, here we go,” the mayor said.

TOP STORY > >City collars 137 pit bulls

Leader staff writer

“It’s as if we don’t have a pit bull ban at all,” says Hedy Limke, supervisor of Jacksonville’s Animal Control Department.

Even though Jacksonville has had a ban in place for about two years, Limke says this year alone her department has picked up 137 pit bull or pit mixes.

Of those, 101 have been euthanized.

Of the 36 returned to their owners, six were registered, 30 were not, and all were banished from the city.

“Most of these pits were running loose when we picked them up,” Limke says. She says owners then have 48 hours to contact the shelter and make proper arrangements for the dog.

Those arrangements include showing proof of rabies shots, making an appointment to have the pit bull spayed our neutered, and having the dog micro chipped. Then the dog must be moved outside the city limits.

“Before we release a pit bull back to the owner, they must provide us with the dog’s new address outside the city limits,” Limke says.

She adds, besides the shots, the neutering and the micro chipping, the owner is charged a $100 service charge and given a citation that could cost the owner up to another $500.

“If we see the animal within the city limits a second time, it is destroyed,” she says.

Limke doesn’t understand why so many pit bulls are being found in the city, but say its “crazy out there.”

“We got in five more pit bulls just last week, it’s like there’s no ban,” she says.

Luckily, she says the increase in loose pit bulls have not resulted in a rash of pit bull bites or attacks. “We’ve only had two bite-related cases this year, so that has definitely gone down,” she says.

Sherwood had a run of pit bulls in May and June, says Robin Breaux, supervisor of that city’s animal control department.

“We’ve had our ban in place since the late 90s, and average five to 10 a year, but when Gravel Ridge became a part of
Sherwood in May we had an increase in pit bulls.”

Breaux says in May the city took in six pit bulls from Gravel Ridge and 15 more in June. “We didn’t take anyone’s dog away, these we all pit bulls that were running loose.”

She says most pit bull or pit mixes that the shelter get in are destroyed. “We just can’t take a chance. Our number one priority is to protect the public, but we do currently have one pit bull up for adoption who is a real sweetheart.”

But Breaux says the pit bulls that the shelter decides are safe enough to be adopted just don’t go to anyone. “We do a home visit and inspection before releasing the animal,” she says.

Both cities do require all animals to be vaccinated and licensed. In Jacksonville the licensing fee runs $30 if the pet is not neutered or spayed and up to date on shots, $5 if spayed and neutered and free if neutered and up to date on shots.

In Sherwood a license costs $3 and can be obtained from the shelter or local vet when the animal receives rabies shots.

TOP STORY > >How hospital might operate

Leader staff writer

In order to shore up the financial base of North Metro Medical Center, the hospital’s board of directors is considering converting the facility to a long-term acute care hospital.

The hope is that the higher rate of insurance reimbursement garnered for long-term care would strengthen the hospital’s revenue stream, making it possible to keep doors open to continue vital services to the community, especially emergency care.

Opening a long-term acute care hospital, or LTACH as it is known in the health care industry, is part of negotiations underway between the hospital board and Allegiance Health Management, a Shreveport-based firm with LTACH’s in Little Rock and Greenville, Mississippi.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, who is also chairman of North Metro’s board of directors, met with representatives of Allegiance on Thursday. He said that no firm date is yet in sight for concluding negotiations. A lease agreement and other financial arrangements must be settled in order for the hospital facility to be turned over to Allegiance.

Allegiance recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its LTACH at the former Southwest Regional Medical Center in Little Rock, now owned by Baptist Health. Allegiance leases the second floor of the hospital and has license for 40 beds; 20 are currently occupied.

Allegiance leases the second floor of the hospital and has license for 40 beds; 20 are currently occupied.

“Occupancy varies and is much higher in the fall and winter, with pneumonia, flu and other respiratory problems,” said Kristen Burton, director of public relations for Allegiance Specialty Hospital in Little Rock.

An LTACH is much different than a rehabilitation center, such as the one that closed at North Metro due to lack of profitability.

Similar centers exist at North Metro’s two main competitors, St. Vincent Medical Center in Sherwood and Baptist Health in North Little Rock.

A rehabilitation center cares for patients with comparatively much less complex medical problems, such as a broken hip or recuperation from an illness. Patients who go to an LTACH have more complex medical problems and often require a ventilator.

The average stay is 25 days. Many come directly from a hospital intensive-care unit and need the same focused around-the-clock attention.

Conditions treated at Al-legiance’s Little Rock LTACH include cardiac and multi-system failure, ventilator dependence, infectious, renal and respiratory diseases, malnutrition, complex wound care, re-constructive and long-term post-surgical care, and other medically complex needs, according to a press release.

The Little Rock LTACH recently added to services a ventilator-weaning program. The Respironics ventilator device used allows patients to speak without an external valve; the hospital touts the device as the only one of its kind in central Arkansas.

Other LTACH’s in Arkansas include St. Vincent Select Specialty Hospital at Little Rock, Baptist Extended Care Hospital at Little Rock, Advanced Care Hospital at Searcy, Regency Hospital at Springdale, and Advance Care Hospital at Hot Springs, as well as Fort Smith.

TOP STORY > >Prosecutor named for Lonoke County

Leader senior staff writer

Gov. Mike Beebe has named a former prosecutor long active in the Cabot community to serve out the balance of Lona McCastlain’s term as District 23 prosecuting attorney.

Will Price Feland, 56, who is a lawyer, a businessman, a minister, former president of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and a Lonoke Exceptional School board member, will replace McCastlain.

She resigned effective Dec. 31 to accompany her husband Bruce, a colonel in the Army National Guard, on an overseas assignment.

Bruce McCastlain, who serves fulltime in the National Guard, was promoted Sept. 14 from lieutenant colonel to full colonel. He got his orders for Europe Sept. 17, she said.

“I couldn’t have been more pleased if I had (picked him) myself,” McCastlain said Thursday. “He’s professional and will serve the people well. He did it before and I know he will do it again.”

“I served in the office as deputy prosecutor, then was elected for four terms,” Feland said Friday. In 1992, he did not seek reelection, going into seminary instead.

He said he wanted to assure continuity of the office.

Because he’s appointed to the position, he’ll not be eligible to succeed himself at the end of his term. He will serve until Dec. 31, 2010.

McCastlain said Feland was one of just a couple of people she recommended to Beebe for the position.

Feland is pastor of the First Christian Church in Sherwood and has a business, Pinnacle Structures in Cabot.

He said he would visit McCastlain’s office to ensure a smooth transition before taking over Jan. 1.

“My hope would be to maintain the staff. I’ll meet with them next week. I want to maintain a very professional environment,” he said.

He said he would be getting a feel for what staff members are charged with what responsibilities, and what cases are likely to go into the first of the year.

He will have to reacquaint himself with the county’s law enforcement community, which has turned completely over since he left 17 years ago.

“I’m looking forward to a very smooth transition,” McCastlain said. “I don’t think he’ll come in and upset the apple cart, but that’s up to him.”

She said there are a couple of murders pending and a full docket.

“I told the governor I’d be leaving the position in good hands,” she said.

Feland is a former Cabot School Board member.

He is also a member of the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

McCastlain was a tireless advocate working for battered and sexually abused women and children, and Feland said his office would remain active in prosecuting such cases.

His wife, Martha, was on the school board for 10 years. His son Price, 27, works for Sen. Mark Pryor, and his daughter Nancy is a Cabot School teacher.

Feland is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and of the University of Arkansas Law School at Little Rock. He is also a certified public accountant.

EDITORIAL >>Global warming and Arkansas

Study commissions in Arkansas have a long and dreary history of fostering government assistance to any kind of business development. So it was refreshing to read that the Governor’s Commission on Global Warming, a creature of the 2007 legislature, chose the broader public interest over investor profits.

The commission recommended that Arkansas build no more coal-fired generating plants until the power industry develops ways to burn coal cleanly. “Clean coal” is the advertising mantra of the coal and power industries, but coal is not clean. It is the dirtiest of all fuels. It is the biggest producer of climate-warming greenhouse gases in the world, and the United States is the biggest producer. We do our share in Arkansas. The three coal plants pump 58 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and a molecule of CO2 hangs around for 50 to 200 years.

Another 6 million tons of the poison a year will be lofted into the atmosphere when Southwestern Electric Power Co. opens its power plant at McNab for business. That is more than the exhausts from all the cars, trucks and tractors in the state.
One day, the industry will perfect the technology of sequestering carbon dioxide emissions deep underground, but that day is not at hand.

Some members of the commission and the industry say the commission was meddling by addressing the issue of coal plants.

But as the chairman, state Rep. Kathy Webb of Little Rock said, how can you have a commission on global warming and not address the biggest contributor to climate change in the world?

Gov. Beebe has taken no position on the coal plant at McNab, at least outwardly, declining to use his bully pulpit to influence either of the state agencies under his command that must provide permits for the plant. The state Public Service Commission granted a permit but the Department of Environmental Quality continues to sit on it. But it seems clear enough that it will follow suit. Its commission overwhelmingly scotched a rule change to begin to regulate carbon dioxide. The environmental commission is stacked with industry backers and environmental concerns always take a back seat to development.

Gov. Beebe could say the word, as governors in other states have done, and Arkansas and the world would be saved from another 6 million tons of carbon poisoning a year. His Commission on Global Warming has given him the cover to do it. Let’s hope he takes it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Bingo tax Unpopular

Invoking the courage of our fighting men and honoring our veterans are sure-fire vote-getters, but we have to draw the line at using the fighting men and women as bait to protect gambling proceeds.

At a legislative committee meeting at the Capitol the other day, representatives of bingo parlors raged at lawmakers for passing a law regulating bingo and collecting a minuscule tax to cover the state’s costs. You will remember that bingo was illegal — it was a form of lottery — until bingo operators persuaded legislators to offer a constitutional amendment to legalize “charitable” bingo.

Voters adopted the amendment in 2006 and the legislature, answering the amendment’s call for state regulation of the gambling to be sure that it was charitable and not profitable, enacted a law to do that. It imposed the little tax, one penny per bingo card.

Some bingo is run by veterans groups, and they were at the Capitol to plead for the removal of the tax when the legislature convenes in January. The tax is onerous and unpatriotic, they said, because some of the proceeds are nominally to be used to help veterans.

Listen to this overheated bloviation by Gene McVay of Fort Smith, who fancied himself a 21st Century Thomas Paine:
“The once proud American fighting men from America’s finest generation who were not defeated at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima or Normandy, in the twilight of their lives they stand defeated by legislation.”

State Senator David Bisbee, R-Springdale, noted that the bingo operators wanted to be legalized and to be regulated.

“I have found,” he observed, “that it’s almost always more profitable to be illegal than legal.”

If they wanted to retain the maximum take from the betting, they should have just expected the law to continue to wink at the violations, as most law-enforcement agencies had been doing for years.

The little tax is nothing more than a nuisance for the parlors, but it does cover the costs of enforcing the law. The taxpayers should not have to pick up the costs of regulating the pleasures of bingo players. But watch the legislature. It will remove the tax.

EDITORIAL >>Hard times for hospital

The federal government does not bail out struggling community hospitals. Only multi-billion Wall Street firms qualify for rescue plans, while Washington pays just a fraction of the cost of treating Medicare patients and those covered by federal insurance, such as Tricare for military members and their families.

Small community hospitals like North Metro Medical Center must write off millions of dollars a year for treating uninsured patients, whom the hospital cannot turn away when they show up for treatment. But why punish hospitals, especially those that are nonprofit, for providing health care to people who can’t afford it?

As the economy worsens, fewer patients can afford to pay their hospital bills. Competition from nearby hospitals, with deeper pockets and more affluent patients, has hurt North Metro.

It’s no wonder, then, that North Metro is reporting $3 million in annual losses. That’s a steep increase over the previous year’s loss of about $800,000.

The city-owned hospital is negotiating with Allegiance Health Management of Shreveport to take over the Jacksonville facility and perhaps offer different services that might help cut North Metro’s losses.

If Allegiance leases the hospital, it could specialize in long-term care but keep the emergency room open. Long-term care can mean more generous reimbursement from insurance companies and the government. But residents from Jacksonville and Lonoke County might have to drive farther for services that might not be available at North Metro, which has just closed its maternity ward.

The city has also negotiated with Baptist North in North Little Rock and St. Vincent North in Sherwood, but Allegiance appears to be the front-runner to take over the troubled hospital.

Large medical centers in Little Rock and North Little Rock are doing quite well with more generous reimbursements and patients who have quality health insurance, but the odds are against the smaller hospitals, with fewer insured patients and more competition and mounting debt. Medicare reimbursements are a problem nationwide — not just in Arkansas — because they are often lower than what private insurers will pay.

Doctors and hospital administrators fear the problem will worsen, and they support universal healthcare because hospitals are the ones caught holding the bag when it comes to serving patients who are unable to afford care but who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

The state can’t afford to subsidize community hospitals; there are so many small-town hospitals in trouble or that have already closed that only an infusion of local capital, such as new sales taxes, or new management with deep pockets, might give the hospitals a fighting chance. A Jacksonville sales tax could hardly cover mounting losses at North Metro.

There ought to be a federal solution before hundreds of community hospitals shut their doors nationwide.

TOP STORY > >Helping youngsters stay off drugs

Leader staff writer

The DARE program – Drug Abuse Resistance Education – is an established part of public school life in Jacksonville, Sherwood, Cabot and across the United States as well as 50 other countries. The brain- child of Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates more than 25 years ago, the program is now in every state and 1,800 school districts, where the curriculum is delivered by 15,000 police officers trained and certified as DARE instructors. By one estimate, the program reaches 36 million students each year.

The DARE program is free to the schools, provided by local law enforcement agencies, relieving financially strapped school systems from the cost of program materials and implementation.

The question for years has been, how effective is DARE in helping youth resist using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco? Those in the business of evaluating the effectiveness of public health education programsare not convinced the popular program really works. DARE does not appear on the lengthy list of effective, research-based youth substance-abuse programs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the federal government. The U.S. surgeon general and U.S. Department of Education are among critics who say DARE is ineffective or even counter-productive.

Police, who as school resource officers interact day in, day out with Jacksonville youth, say that they don’t necessarily need a research study to convince them that the DARE program is worthwhile. Proof enough is the bond between child and officer and how a caring adult can “speak into a child’s life,” says Cpt. Charley Jenkins, a former school resource officer.

For him, the chance meeting with a young man years after graduating from DARE who proudly proclaimed “still drug free!” is the kind of evidence that counts.

“My four years in the schools have been a success, having reached that one man,” Jenkins said. “You don’t necessarily hear about the ones staying drug free.”

“We form a strong relationship with a lot of kids – that is important from the police’s perspective – to get them to trust you,” Cpl. Les Hockaday, longtime school resource and DARE instructor, said. “They can talk to you if they are having a problem, as a friend. The little ones, they love their DARE officers and miss you when you are not there.”

The Jacksonville Police Department invests about $10,000 annually in the DARE program, which is taught in all Jacksonville schools, in fifth grade and again in middle school health classes. Ten hours of classroom time is used for each program.

Besides instructional materials, the funds pay for “incentives” to help get the DARE message across – ball caps, T-shirts, pens, rulers, pencils, and other items. Four police officers are assigned to all the campuses – elementary, middle and high school.

In order to become a DARE instructor, an officer completes an interview, a written application, and then two weeks of training that helps make the shift from street cop to educator – “some of the hardest training I ever had and that includes 20 years-plus in the Air Force,” Hockaday said.

Drug resistance education is only one component of DARE. Self-esteem, how to wisely choose friends, and good decision-making skills are other topics covered in DARE. And the school resource officer program is about more than the DARE program. The officers who participate are ready to address a host of problems – disorder in the classroom, bullying, gangs, and violence – in accord with a principal’s request, Hockaday said.

Hockaday says early bonding between the officers and children is a crucial element of the program’s effectiveness that carries into middle and high school.

“We have got kids that come to us all the time and let us know if someone has drugs. They don’t want drugs on their campus.

We teach them that with drugs come violence; if someone has drugs, they’ll be carrying a gun.”

There is a box in every school in which students can anonymously leave a message for the police or tip about someone suspected of possession of illegal substances.

“Kids put questions in the box about a lot of things, and sometimes you might find a disclosure,” Hockaday said. He recalled one such message that resulted in one child’s relatives being arrested and imprisoned for drug possession.

Michael Nellums, principal of the Jacksonville Boys Middle School, and Kimala Forrest, principal of Jacksonville Girls Middle School, both report an absence of drug- and alcohol-related incidents on campus. Forrest credits DARE and the middle school curriculum, an addition to the original DARE. She says students are “hearing and retaining” DARE material presented to them in elementary school, because her girls recollect it.

“We now have more officers trained to be in the schools, and kids are better educated,” Forrest said. “They start in the elementary schools and added middle school. That has made a big difference.”

Researchers say that positive anecdotes about students here and there are not sufficient evidence that DARE is widely effective.

If a medication or treatment only helped a small percentage of the population, it would not be marketed. The same standard, they say, should go for educational programs meant to change behavior. How well a program is liked by teachers and police officers does not validate its effectiveness.

Over the last decade, study after study found the original DARE program to be ineffective and in some cases counterproductive in deterring kids from using illegal substances. One study, by researchers at the University of Kentucky Center for Prevention Research, found no impact on use of cigarettes, alcohol, or marijuana for students one year and five years after going through 16 weeks of DARE training in sixth grade, compared to students who had had one unit about drugs in health class. Researchers faulted the DARE program for not being in tune with what scientists know about adolescent development.

In 2001, with the help of a $13.6 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, DARE was redesigned in response to criticisms. Decision making, communication, and refusal skills are now central to the curriculum. The “new DARE” reaches kindergarteners and offers “booster” programs for the upper grades, when youngsters are most likely to experiment with illicit substances.

The program now focuses more intensively on the gateway drugs, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants, and offers a curriculum on abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The Jacksonville Police Department plans to use the new program this year.

“Looking at national trends, I really wanted to push that curriculum this year,” Jenkins said.

The methods for engaging students has changed too, with fewer lectures and more group activities, role playing, courtroom enactments, and colorful videos.

Preliminary results of a five-year study tracking more than 20,000 students in the DARE program in Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark (N.J.), New Orleans, and St. Louis showed slightly better decision making and drug resistance skills for DARE graduates in seventh-grade, compared with a control group. The conclusive report on DARE’s effectiveness in rates of substance abuse, especially in later adolescence, has not been published.

Warren Bickel, director of the Center of Addiction Research at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, hopes that Arkansas schools use rigorous criteria in choosing a drug-abuse prevention program.

“As in deciding what works with their educational efforts – that the same is applied with their drug prevention efforts – that they have more criteria than it’s cheap and easy – but that it also works,” Bickel said.

“Everybody and their brother expect the schools to solve all the problems and fix kids. It is a hard row to hoe. DARE in some ways makes it easy for the schools.”

Karen Sullards, principal of Bayou Meto Elementary School, misses the DARE program, which no longer is in the Pulaski County schools outside Jacksonville and Sherwood city limits. Funding shortfalls forced the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office to cut the program in 2005.

“When fifth-graders went through DARE, they learned a lot of things – how to say no, how to handle peer pressure especially. It really helped those kids who couldn’t verbalize their feelings. It helped them come out.”

TOP STORY > >30th CabotFest is set this weekend

Leader staff writer

Autumn is in the air and so will the sights and sounds of the 30th annual Cabotfest 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Admission and parking are free.

“CabotFest has grown in size along with the city. It brings the community together, from individuals to organizations working together to show what a great city we’ve got,” said Mayor Eddie Joe Williams.

An expected 20,000 people are estimated to attend CabotFest.

“The chamber invites you to join your friends and neighbors for a fun-filled day atCabotFest,” said Billye Everett, director of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce.

Musical entertainment for this year includes sets from the Salty Dogs, a county band from Little Rock; Married by Elvis, a melting pot of county, rock and blues, from Nashville, Tenn.; Kingsdown, a rock band from Batesville; Hwy. 5, Christian rock from Little Rock; and PriceCrew, a pop group from Jacksonville.

Also Luke Williams Band, country and southern rock, from Beebe; Dennis Farmer and the Hallelujah Harmony Quartet, a gospel group based in Cabot, and gospel singers Amy and Howie Ross.

A second stage will hold performances from several local bands, martial arts demonstrations and dance studio performances.

An unusual event new this year is a cricket-spitting contest put on by the Living Waters Church youth group.

Contestants will be spitting frozen crickets to see who can make the insects travel the furthest.

New to the festival is the Kids Zone, at Regions Bank’s parking lot. A secured fenced-area with an inflatable playground and a large sand pile will be available for children to play in at the fest.

CabotFest attendees will have a lot to see. There will be arts and crafts displayed, nearly 150 vendors to visit, along with 16 food vendors selling everything from corn dogs and funnel cakes to cotton candy.

Returning this year is the carnival. Beginning Friday night from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. festival goers can ride an unlimited amount of rides with an armband for $12 in advance and $15 at the booth.

TOP STORY > >Three battle for Dist. 15 House seat

Leader senior staff writer

With the election rapidly approaching, Trent Eilts, Doug Hatcher and Walls McCrary asked Lonoke Chamber members for their support last week as the three men position themselves to replace District 15 state Rep. Lenville Evans, D-Lonoke.

Evans has served three terms, making him ineligible to run again because of term limits.

Hatcher, who lost to Evans in 2002, will run on a platform of tougher sentences and more prison beds. Four gang members murdered his 17-year-old, son Jason Hatcher, in 1993 at a Sherwood Harvest Foods parking lot. Hatcher is a Union Pacific engineer.

McCrary is city treasurer, a community leader and retired businessman in Lonoke. He says he will focus on education and economic development. He also owns and manages farmland.

Eilts, who lives south of Cabot, said the government needed to make the kind of commitment to technology that it made in the 1950s in building the interstate system.

He said in trying to fix the economy, health care and the school system, it was really the symptoms, not the problems, being fixed.

“Good technology is like air conditioning,” he said. “We haven’t always had it but we don’t want to live without it.”

Eilts said universal high speed Internet would benefit E-prescriptions, ambulance response times and schools. Eilts also would en-courage development of bio-fuels and natural gas vehicles, he said.

“Less government is the best government,” he said.

Hatcher, who lives in Butlerville, came to politics as an extension of his advocacy for keeping violent criminals in prison for their full terms, but he told the chamber members that he was not a single-issue candidate.

Hatcher said the country was in a recession and that state government must not grow faster than the economy.

In education, he favors merit pay for teachers and discipline in the classroom, and calls himself pro-life and pro-family, favoring the Biblical view of marriage, including opposing homosexuality.

He also supports private gun ownership.

“If we have the best leadership, why are thousands of violent, dangerous felons free?” he asked. “I want accountability. We have to stop the revolving door for violent criminals.”

“What happened to me started my journey into politics.”

He said he believed that members of the parole board accept payoffs to let violent felons free.

McCrary, who has managed his family’s farm and also its historic store in Lonoke, said he was campaigning on the issue of proven leadership. “I’m a life-long resident and Democrat,” he said.

“I want to serve the people of Lonoke County. I don’t have any other dog in the hunt and no personal ax to grind.”

“Both my opponents are good men, good Christians,” he said.

McCrary, the Lonoke city treasurer, stressed his experience as president or board member of the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce, County Library Board, and chairman of the Bayou Meto Drainage District Board. He served on the Lonoke School Board for 16 years.

The election is Nov. 4 and early voting begins Oct. 20.

TOP STORY > >Tax collections go up for cities in tough times

Leader staff writer

The poor economy is helping area cities fill up their coffers with local sales tax collections.

Jacksonville’s coffers are up, according to the city’s finance director Paul Mushrush.

Higher prices on staple items, along with an influx of hurricane refugees has helped push Jacksonville tax collections hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead of last year’s totals.

Sherwood is also seeing an increase in its tax totals.

The good news was first announced at the last Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission meeting where Mushrush said collections of the commission’s hotel-motel room tax was substantially ahead of last year, and the best in the four years of the tax.

He also said the commission’s prepared- foods levy, known as the hamburger tax, also continued to come in strong.

But the news on the city’s two-cent tax andits share of the county’s one cent tax are even better.

Through September, the city has collected $5,530,855 from its two-cent tax, more than $400,000 ahead of last year’s take of $5,120,969 through the same nine months.

Jacksonville is one of eight county cities that share in the county’s one-cent sales tax. Jacksonville receives about 8.27 percent which this year, through September, amounts to $4,828,980, running just under $200,000 ahead of last year’s collections for the same time period of $4,640,138.

In Sherwood, the city has brought in, through August, $2.9 million on its one-cent sales tax, $70,000 more than the $2.83 million for the same period in 2007.

Sherwood’s share of the county tax totaled to $3.47 million through August, nearly $240,000 ahead of last year’s total for the same time period, $3.33 million.

Mushrush credits higher gas prices for generating the higher tax amounts. “I do a lot of the grocery shopping for my family and the price of such staples as toilet paper have doubled recently,” he said. Mushrush said the higher prices mean a higher total bill which translates into more tax being charged and collected.

Jacksonville’s tax fortune is not completely built on a struggling economy. “We’ve got the air show next weekend and that will bring in thousands of people pumping money into our city,” Mushrush said, adding that Jacksonville hotels are already filled for the open house weekend.


Some of Sherwood’s increase is from tax collected off sales of the new Wal-Mart Supercenter located near Highway 107 and Maryland Avenue.

Through August, Jacksonville’s A&P commission’s two-cent hotel tax had generated $56,508, more than $5,000 above last year’s amount.

The two-cent hamburger tax last month came in at $449,437, one of the strongest months since the tax was first collected last October.

Sherwood has no hotel-room tax, but does have a two-cent hamburger tax. Through August, the hamburger tax has brought in $367,471 for Sherwood compared to $330,011 for the same period last year.


A change in the way sales tax is collected doesn’t appear do have hurt Cabot, where revenue is up about $7,000 a month.
Since the beginning of the year, local sales tax is collected at the point of delivery, not where the merchandise is sold. For Cabot, that means the city doesn’t get the tax money for material purchased at lumber yards inside the city limits and delivered to building sites elsewhere. But the city would collect revenue for any appliances or other merchandise purchase elsewhere but delivered to Cabot.

“We’re still looking at that trying to develop a trend,” Marva Verkler, city clerk-treasurer, said this week. “We’re still trying to decide if it’s hurting us or helping us. We’re hoping it helps.”

This much is clear, the city received $305,000 from the state on Sept. 25 for taxes collected in July, which is about $7,000 more than the monthly average for 2007. So far this year, the city has collected $2.745 million, she said.

The city’s 1.5 percent hamburger tax brought in $51,500 in September compared to $47,000 this time last year, she said.


The change in the tax law, which was really intended to level the playing field between Internet and catalog stores and local brick- and-mortar businesses, prompted the city of Austin to pass a sales tax.

Building was booming there last year and Mayor Bernie Chamberlain wanted her city to get its share of the sales tax revenue from building materials delivered to subdivisions in Austin. But the sales tax can’t be collected in a city that doesn’t have a sales tax, so the voters approved a one-cent tax that went into effect Oct. 1.

Chamberlain said it appears the economy has not slowed construction very much in Austin. The issuance of building permits is down, but not much, she said. Until the tax money starts coming in near the end of the year, it won’t be known how much the city will gain. But the mayor said she hopes it will be enough to pay for the two additional police officers who have been hired and water projects that are ongoing. Street repairs also are planned if the tax revenue meets expectations, she said.


Ward’s local tax revenue has increased, according to information available from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. In July 2007, the city’s tax brought in $11,283 compared to $13,159 in July 2008.

Local tax revenue also has increased in Beebe, from $67,602 in July 2007 to $79,694 in July 2008.


No one’s disputing that the economy is contracting and there are tough times ahead, but through the first nine months of
2008, tax revenues in Lonoke County are greater than they were a year ago, according to Karol DePriest, the county treasurer.

“Nothing is hurting us much right now,” said DePriest, but September tax collections won’t be turned back from the state until sometime in December.

By law, the sales tax money goes into the county road, solid waste and library accounts, she said.

The county general funds, which support most everything else, are from tax, property tax and personal taxes, and it arrives in the form of turnback from the state.

Collections this year through September are $856,067, up from $771,335 last year, DePriest said.

Even though there’s an additional $33 million in new assessed value on the county books compared to three years ago, that only translates to about $115,000 in new revenue, she said.

The primary factors in the amount of those revenues is the appraised evaluation of homes in the county, the number of new homes built and appraised and the amount of millage residents pay.

She said residents didn’t seem to be more delinquent than usual in paying their taxes.

“We may know more next month,” she said.

County residents approved a one-year, one penny sales tax in May and collection of that money begins in October, DePriest said, with the first money hitting county coffers in December of January.

Most of Arkansas in general and Lonoke County in particular never experienced an inflated housing-price bubble, according to County Assessor Jerry Adams.

So far, as the county’s contractor finishes up the most recent three-year reappraisal, the most significant change is not the value of the homes being reassessed, but the value of new homes being assessed for the first time.

“They tell me they’re still building houses at Cabot at a pretty rapid pace,” Adams said. “The market shows it hasn’t been affected in this county yet.”

“If the economy stays the way it is, the sales will be going down when (appraisers) set values for the new three-year cycle,” Adams said.

But for now, there’s been a 38 percent growth in the appraised value of real estate in Lonoke County over the preceding three-year reassessment compared with the three-year appraisal completed in 2005.

Leader staff writers John Hofheimer and Joan McCoy contributed to this article.

TOP STORY > >Hospital to see changes

Leader staff writer

The board of directors of North Metro Medical Center has signed a letter of intent to begin negotiations with Allegiance Health Management about leasing the hospital building, which is owned by the city of Jacksonville. In effect, this means Allegiance would assume control of operations of the hospital. With that could come new services, and possible elimination of others.

Last week, the Jacksonville City Council voted to clear the way for a lease agreement with a for-profit entity, such as Allegiance.

“This is an effort to maintain an acute-care hospital in the city of Jacksonville,” Mayor Tommy Swaim, who is also the chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, said on Monday.

The letter of agreement with Allegiance, a Shreveport-based firm, “does not keep another entity from making a proposal,” Swaim said.

Discussions have also been opened up with Baptist Health and St. Vincent Health, North Metro’s main competitors.

Also to be negotiated would be leasing of other assets, which includes everything used in hospital operations – from bed linens to furniture to medical equipment.

The hospital continues to confront financial challenges, with losses at more than $3 million. The hope is that Allegiance or another company would turn the hospital around while continuing essential healthcare services.

Currently, the building is leased to the hospital board of directors. If another company were to come in to operate the hospital, the arrangement would be a sublease from the board.

Part of the plan, ideally, is to be able to offer after-hours care at the hospital.

“An after-hours clinic is one of our negotiating points, one of our requests, but whether that would remain in the end” is not certain, Swaim said.

Keeping current staff is also a goal, if hospital operations change hands.

“We asked that they maintain as many of the staff as possible, if not all, if Allegiance comes in and operates the hospital,” Swaim said.

The mission of Allegiance Health Management is “to provide maximum assistance to rural and community healthcare facilities enabling them to prosper and succeed with their mission of providing for the diversified healthcare needs of their communities,” its Web site states.

This is accomplished via “ownership assistance, consulting and management services, and acquisition of services.”

According to its Web site, Allegiance has 31 facilities in eight states – Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas – that includes in Arkansas, eight counseling centers, three behavioral-health hospitals, a medical center and a specialty hospital.

The Allegiance corporate office did not respond to a request for further information about actual Arkansas locations.

North Metro’s financial difficulties stem from tough competition from two much larger hospitals within 10 miles – Baptist North in North Little Rock and St. Vincent North in Sherwood – and a low reimbursement rate to smaller hospitals for services provided to patients with government insurance (Medicaid, Medicare, and Tricare).

A large proportion of North Metro patients have government insurance.

Allegiance may be able to bring in services with a better reimbursement rate, such as long-term acute care, Swaim said.

From the fiscal year 2006 (ending June 30) to FY 2007, North Metro’s annual net loss increased from $804,000 to $3 million, according to an Arkansas Business report out this week.

For FY 2007, the hospital had a 3.45 percent negative return on total billed charges and $4.8 million loss in uncompensated care billed to insurers, out of a total $46.8 million billed.

The report is based on data from Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield provided by hospitals.

North Metro is not the only hospital in Arkansas that is struggling financially. The ones having the most difficulties are small and rurally based.

“It is just tough on small hospitals,” Swaim said.

In 2007, the hospital hired a new CEO, Scott Landrum, in hopes of improving the bottom line.

With his administration has come a new name for the hospital, a sharper public image and improvements to the facility and services.

How much difference all that has made in financial sustainability is not certain. Hospital administrators have been reluctant to publicize the latest information about profitability.

Landrum and the North Metro chief financial officer, Cal Brummund, are employees of the management firm Quorum Health Resources (QHR), contracted to perform management services.

With the possibility of hospital operations being taken over by Allegiance or another entity, the future relationship of QHR and the hospital is uncertain, Swaim said.

SPORTS>>Shielding their quarterback focus this week for Jackrabbits

Leader sportswriter

Regrouping offensively is the focus this week for the Lonoke Jackrabbits when Southside Batesville visits James B. Abraham Stadium this Friday at 7 p.m. The Southerners have had their share of struggles since opening the season with a 34-29 win over Mountain View. They have since dropped four straight, and have been outscored 118-32 since the start of 2-4A Conference play two weeks ago.

One thing that can be said for Southside Batesville (1-4, 0-2) is it is starting its league campaign off against some of the toughest teams in Class 4A football. The Southerners took a 62-12 beating at the hands of perennial contender Stuttgart in Week 4, and didn’t fare much better last week in a 56-20 loss to Clinton. Friday will mark the second time in three weeksthat the Southerners have faced a top-five team.

“Every week in conference play, you have to be focused on that game,” Lonoke coach Jeff Jones said. “You have to stay focused on that game, and what you’re trying to accomplish, which is getting another win in conference.”

Lonoke (4-1, 2-0) had an easy time last week in a 35-6 win at Bald Knob, despite a few woes at the offensive line. Senior quarterback Rollins Elam, who is known primarily as a pocket passer, was forced out on a number of occasions against the Bulldogs, though he tossed three touchdown passes.

“We’ve had some breakdowns in our pass protection,” Jones said. “It’s not been real consistent. We kind of fixed things last week when we got into the second quarter, but we’ve just not executed as consistently as we need to. We want to shore up that area and improve it.”

Jones said the plan is to provide a refresher course on blocking schemes during practice this week.

“We want to focus on a lot of the fundamentals,” Jones said. “Just doing drills and reps, and making sure that we’re all on the same page.”

One thing that has not been inconsistent for Lonoke the last two weeks has been its defense. The ’Rabbits held Heber Springs for an easy win in Week 4, and the secondary came up huge last week with five interceptions.

“We really feel like our defense has been improving,” Jones said. “The way they played last Friday night, swarming to the football. The secondary did a good job. We’ve seen a lot of improvement there.”

The Southerners, while not loaded with talent, do have looks that concern Jones.

“One thing they can do is run in the double wing, and if they get a big play and move downfield, they will turn around and jump into the spread,” Jones said. “You really have to be ready to adjust for things like that. It can cause you fits.”

SPORTS>>Long trip, athletic Crossett next up for Bears

Leader sports editor

Both teams are struggling to find an identity. Both are already trying to stay alive for a possible postseason berth.

Sylvan Hills will travel to Crossett on Friday night to take on an Eagle team that is still being molded by first-year head coach Todd Ledford.

“We’re a work in progress,” said Ledford, whose Eagles improved to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the 5A-Southeast with a notable 27-15 win over White Hall last Friday. “I’m trying to get them to do it my way and it’s taking me some time to do it.”

Ledford’s way is a balanced attack out of a one-back set and a disciplined read-and-react defense. It’s been tough to teach, he said, especially with a young defense, but he insists it’s getting better every week.

For Sylvan Hills, it’s also been a matter of developing some consistency, especially on the offensive side. Last week against Mills, the Bears bounced back after an ugly performance in a Week 4 loss to White Hall that had head coach Jim Withrow scratching his head.

The Bears used a long fourth-quarter drive and the constant pounding of running backs Lawrence Hodges and Juliean Broner to beat Mills 27-8. Hodges ran for 133 yards, while Broner added 106. Quarterback Jordan Spears chipped in 55 on the ground.

“We developed some confidence on the ground last week,” said Withrow after his Bears snapped a 3-game slide to improve to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in conference.

“We kind of found a formula last week, did some more stuff with Spears under center. It worked out well with split backs. It takes some heat off of Jordan trying to throw the ball.”

Spears completed only one pass last week, though it was a huge one to Ahmad Scott. Withrow said Spears put several passes right on the money but had a couple of them dropped.

“We know we’re going to throw the ball more down the stretch,” Withrow said. “We still have the shotgun if we need it. The problem with playing teams like North Little Rock and Cabot is you can’t really settle into what you want to do. You kind of have to settle into what they want to do.

“But we want to get a closer balance. Ahmad and Taylor Clark have both done a good job for us at receiver.”

Whatever formula Sylvan Hills settles on this Friday, a win is critical, even this early into the conference season. With Beebe and Monticello figuring to battle it out for the top two spots in the league, there will be a spirited fight for the final two postseason slots. Crossett’s win over White Hall, a team which beat the Bears, would seem to give them the upper hand, but that would be erased if Sylvan Hills takes care of business Friday night.

“We’re treating it like a game we have to have,” Withrow said. “It’s kind of like everybody in the conference can beat everybody else.”

The Bears will focus on stopping running back Anthony Phillips, who rushed for 113 yards and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against White Hall. But the Eagles are multi-faceted, with four good receivers and a solid quarterback in Derek Johnson. Ledford maintains that none of his players will “knock your eyes out to look at them.”

“We don’t have any big-play guys,” he said. “We have four guys who are crisp route runners. And Phillips can run, but his main thing is, he has real good vision.”

Giving up big plays hasn’t been much of an issue with Sylvan Hills all season, which has relied largely on its defense to keep it in games.

“The defense has done a good job,” Withrow said. “We’ve mostly kept the ball in front of us and we’ll need to do that on Friday.”

Ledford said that his defense should have its hands full against the Bears.

“Their quarterback can spin the ball pretty well, or they’ll line up and run over you,” he said. “They’ll get in the Veer and hammer away or they’ll be (in a no-back set). On defense, they’re out there trying to create mistakes and they’re all over the field.”

The Bears will have the luxury of a full roster on Friday night with the return of senior safety Casey Cerrato. Lineman Jacob Denson is slightly injured but is expected to play.

Linebacker Michael Robinson, who missed the first three games with injury, played nearly the entire game against Mills, allowing Hodges to remain fresh for his 25 carries.

“We got Lawrence in on offense for the full game,” Withrow said. “It’s amazing what happens when you have your gun full of bullets.”

SPORTS>> Falcons host big Bulldogs

Leader sportswriter

Gaining respect can sometimes be just as vital as picking up a win.

Last week’s 40-13 loss to powerhouse Beebe may not look all that impressive at first glance for coach Tony Bohannon’s North Pulaski Falcons, but they hung tough with the sixth-ranked team in the state for three quarters until the Badgers pulled it out going away.

“Don’t ever quit, that’s what I always go by,” said Falcon head coach Tony Bohannon, whose Falcons dropped their fourth straight to fall to 1-4, 0-2 in the 5A-Southeast. “The bottom line is, the kids saw they could compete with Beebe. That’s a plus for us. In this conference, anybody can beat anyone. A lot of us are in the same boat as far as injuries go – one or two people hurt can really hurt you. We’re still plugging, still working hard. We’re going to fight it until the end – don’t give up until they make you.”

The Falcons will host White Hall this week. The Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1) have had mixed results so far this season. They opened their 5A-Southeast Conference schedule with a surprising win over Sylvan Hills only to suffer a disappointing 27-15 loss to Crossett last Friday.

The Bulldogs will bring an offense that can be potent. Coach Mike Vaughn’s multiple look is led by junior quarterback Caleb Akers and senior running back J.J. Martin. Akers gained valuableexperience last year as a sophomore, and Martin put up solid numbers in his 2007 campaign with over 1,000 yards rushing for the Bulldogs.

Bohannon will prepare his team for White Hall the same way he plans on preparing for most of the Falcons’ Southeast opponents this year, with an eye on limiting its ground attack.

“They have some big linemen and some fast backs,” Bohannon said. “They have a slot, kind of a wing-T look, but they can also spread it out. They’re pretty athletic. We’re going to have to concentrate on stopping the run.”

There was buzz early on about the potential strength of the North Pulaski offensive line – a buzz that came with a warning from Bohannon because of depth problems. That warning proved prescient when three-year starting senior guard Dillon
Sheffield went down with a broke rib after the Falcons’ season-opening win over Searcy.

Sheffield has been out ever since, leaving prospective tight end Zach Barnes stuck at the line filling in for Sheffield. There is a chance Sheffield could return this week, which could give the Falcons more options on offense than they have in recent weeks.

While production on both offense and defense improved for North Pulaski last week, the special teams gave up two scores.

There were also some issues with penalties that the head Falcon could have done without.

“That’s the mental part of it,” Bohannon said. “You can’t have those kind of breakdowns. One example is we stopped them on third and seven, and then we had an unsportsmanlike penalty, and they kept the ball and ended up driving down and scoring on us. I was proud of our kids. They played hard. We just want to eliminate all those mistakes.”

“If you take away those two scores we gave up on special teams, and those mental letdowns, you’re looking at a whole different ball game,” he added.

A win for North Pulaski this week could mean more than just ending a four-game skid.

While Beebe and Monticello look to run away with the first two conference seeds at this point, a genuine dogfight could develop for the final two playoff spots. Everyone else has lost at least one league game in the first two weeks, leaving the Falcons very much alive to capture their first-ever playoff berth.

SPORTS>> Red Devils getting back to basics

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville travels to Little Rock this Friday night to take on a team that has lost four straight, and has been outscored 140-8 in the process. But there’s no reason to think the Red Devils will be looking past 1-4 Little Rock Hall after their own up-and-down start to the 2008 season. Kickoff at Scott Field is set for 7 p.m.

It’s been a strange early road for the Red Devils, who opened with a loss to 7A powerhouse Cabot but rebounded with an impressive road win at Vilonia. That was followed by a stunning loss to struggling Little Rock Mills. Jacksonville was impressive in the conference-openingwin over Mountain Home, but struggled on both sides of the ball in a 31-13 home loss to Jonesboro last Friday.

So, no, given the topsy-turvy nature of the young Red Devils’ young season, overconfidence should not be an issue.

“We saw (Hall) a couple of weeks ago and they have some kids that catch your eye,” said Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley.

“Their tailback runs well and their athleticism is always a concern. They’re not going to try to trick you. They’re just going to line up and try to do what you do better than you.”

So far, the Warriors have rarely succeeded in that effort, other than in a season-opening 38-6 romp past Little Rock McClellan.

It’s been all downhill from that point on. Their only touchdown in that span came in a 47-6 loss to Cabot, and they have suffered a 6-0 loss to Mills, a 50-0 trouncing by West Memphis and last week’s 37-2 loss to Mountain Home.

It would seem, then, that if Jacksonville can take care of its side of things, it should be in pretty good shape on Friday night. It might provide the perfect opportunity for the Red Devils to re-focus their efforts on what Whatley identified as critical after last week’s loss: Getting back to basics.

“Plays that we had finally started making, we didn’t make them (against Jonesboro),” Whatley said. “That’s on both sides of the football. There were five or six plays that they made and we didn’t that made the difference in the game.

“We were flat coming out of halftime. In the past, we’ve had a spark.”

The Red Devils briefly led the Hurricane after a 15-play first-quarter drive put them up 7-3. But ball control from there on out would belong to Jonesboro, which held on to the ball for nearly 30 of the 48 minutes. Whatley blamed much of that on an ineffective offense, which included a slew of dropped passes and spotty pass protection for sophomore quarterback Logan Perry. Perry completed 19 of 33 passes for 193 yards, but had a pair of interceptions.

Wide receiver Demetris Harris turned in another sterling performance, catching six passes for the second straight game. Stan Appleby and Terrell Brown caught four each. But overall, the offense wasn’t very consistent.

“The spacing wasn’t very good on our routes and the way we matched up, it was hard to run inside the tackles,” Whatley said. “We could have been a heck of a lot better.”

Speedy tailback Patrick Geans got only eight carries in the contest, netting only 22 yards. Perry was under constant pressure the entire night, suffering three sacks for significant loss.

Whatley mostly blamed the offense for the defensive woes on Friday. The Red Devil defense, on the field for all but 18 minutes, surrendered 426 yards and 24 first downs against the multi-faceted Jonesboro attack. But Whatley saw some good things and gave much of the credit to Jonesboro’s execution.

“I thought our defense covered (the Hurricane receivers) up,” he said. “We’d be there and we’d have a couple of guys around their receiver, but their quarterback did a great job of sticking the ball in there. They were a tough team to defend. They stretch you pretty good and put pressure on the corner. And they had a running back that ran north and south, which is perfect for the Spread running game.”

The next two weeks are critical ones for Jacksonville, with Hall and Searcy figuring to be the easiest games left on the schedule.

After that, it’s resurgent Parkview, West Memphis and Marion — all tough games.

SPORTS>> Bounce-back time for Cabot

Leader sports editor

A couple of 7A powerhouses will try to keep their Central Conference title hopes alive on Friday night when North Little Rock visits Cabot for a 7 p.m. tilt.

Cabot will be trying to bounce back from its first loss of the season — a thrilling 35-28 setback to Little Rock Catholic last Friday night at Panther Stadium. The Panthers’ fourth-down play from the Rocket 6-yard line failed on the final play of the game.

“It was an exciting game to watch,” said Panther head coach Mike Malham. “It probably wasn’t so much fun for the Cabot side at the end. But the game (against North Little Rock) is a lot bigger now than before we lost.”

It’s big for the Charging Wildcats, as well. North Little Rock, which has proved to be a defensive dynamo this season, rebounded last week from its first loss of the season by hanging on for an 18-10 win over winless Conway. North Little Rock, boasting a fast and huge defense, has surrendered just 36 points all season, limited Conway to 129 total yards.

“They have more size than we do,” Malham said. “We’re going with a smaller lineup and we’re going to have to knock them off the ball. It’s going to be trench warfare, for sure.”

That Cabot offensive line had perhaps its best game of the season against Catholic, allowing Michael James to run for 114 yards and four touchdowns, while Chris Bayles added 89 yards.

“We were better offensively than we were against Conway (the previous week),” Malham said. “We’ve had nights where we’ve struggled. Hopefully, we’re getting more consistent. The offensive line definitely got off the ball better.”

Against North Little Rock, the Panthers will be facing a fast and big defense. None bigger than 355 pound nose-guard Darius Hudson, a transfer from Little Rock Central.

“Hudson moves as well as any guy that size I’ve ever coached,” said North Little Rock head coach Brad Bolding. “If he loses a little weight, he could play anywhere.”

They’ve also got a great defensive end in Anthony Rogers and linebackers and defensive backs that run extremely well. For Dead-T-dedicated Cabot, it may be a case of having to mix things up more than usual. The Panthers threw the ball effectively against Catholic.

As good as the Charging Wildcats have been defensively, their offense has been spotty at best. They’re putting up only 13 points per game in compiling a 4-1 overall record. But they have the weapons to do some damage, including four solid receivers in Darius Walton and Donald James, and a solid quarterback in David Hope. Hope threw for 175 yards against Conway.

North Little Rock likes to run a little more than it throws but only by a little. It is a very balanced offense.

“The offensive line is better this year, but not anywhere where we want it to be,” Bolding said.

The Wildcats got 259 yards of offense in a 17-14 Week 4 loss to Russellville and 285 yards last Friday. North Little Rock managed only 219 total yards in a 7-6 win over Sylvan Hills earlier in the season.

“Offensively, they haven’t scored a lot of points, but they have weapons,” Malham warned. “They’re balanced, a lot like Catholic and we’ve got to be able to cover it all. They can break one off at anytime. I just hope they don’t get it all together on Friday.”

Bolding said the added speed of Cabot this season makes them even more formidable.

“What Cabot does is unique,” Bolding said. “They’re tough to stop. You have to try to force them into second and long or third and long. But this year, they’ve shown they can throw the ball and they have a quarterback that can do it. It makes them even tougher to defend.”

For Malham, there were things to be happy about despite suffering the first loss of the season. He credited Catholic receivers with making exceptional plays, even with Cabot defensive backs being in good position.

“It’s a game that could have gone either way,” Malham said. “They just made some great catches. Catholic has two losses, but against two of the top teams in the state.

“Whoever comes out of our game Friday 1-2 is not going to be in very good shape. It never gets any easier in this conference.

I’ll be surprised if anybody goes undefeated.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Probe widens into firings

The U. S. Justice Department, in a remarkable bit of introspection, concluded this week that the White House had improperly directed the firing of the federal prosecutor in Arkansas so that it could put one of its political henchmen in the job.
Everyone knew that already, but it was refreshing that the Justice Department acknowledged the fact and got it off its chest.
The department’s inspector general recommended that a special prosecutor be appointed to continue to investigate the firing of Bud Cummins, the U. S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and at least two other U.S. attorneys who were fired in 2006 and 2007 because they were not sufficiently attentive to the needs of the Republican Party and the White House.
The special counsel will see if anyone should be prosecuted for corrupting the Justice Department. The job will fall to a U. S. attorney who has prosecuted government fraud in Connecticut.
The inspector general’s 400-page report examined the firing of nine Republican prosecutors by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the longtime Texas friend of President Bush whom Bush dispatched from the White House counsel’s office in 2005 to replace John Ashcroft, who had displeased the White House by not providing legal opinions that suited the president’s needs.
The Justice Department thereafter became a division of the White House political office, run by Karl Rove, and a number of district attorneys were deemed not abundantly helpful to the political aims of the White House and the party.
Cummins, a loyal Republican who was named by Bush in 2001, learned in 2006 that the Justice Department wanted his resignation by year’s end. He would discover that Rove wanted Timothy Griffin in the job. The 2008 elections were coming up and Griffin’s tricks in prior elections as a Republican campaign operator, especially in Florida in the 2004 presidential election, had earned him a big reputation.
Gonzales would appoint Griffin to Cummins’ job under a little-known provision of the Patriot Act that would allow him to escape confirmation by the Senate, but he was forced to resign after a few months.
Gonzales insisted at the outset that Cummins and the other dismissed attorneys were ousted owing to their poor job performances and nothing more. The inspector general could find no evidence of poor performance by seven attorneys and scant evidence by two others. Cummins had gotten nothing but good annual evaluations.
The inspector general said he was hamstrung in his investigation by the White House’s refusal to turn over records dealing with the cases and with the refusal of White House officials and Republican members of Congress to talk to the inspector general about the cases.
Nevertheless, he said the evidence was clear in the cases of Cummins and the U. S. attorneys in Missouri and New Mexico that they were fired for political reasons alone, in Cummins’ case solely so that Rove could place Griffin, a former subordinate in the White House political office, in the job.
The Justice Department, of all the agencies of government, is supposed to be non-partisan and non-political. It is where independence resides and impartial justice is dispensed. But in the congressional hearings over the firings, it was revealed that an assistant under Gonzales who screened career attorney hirings collected political views and activities and asked job applicants how they thought they could serve George W. Bush.
Their sworn duty was not to serve Bush but the country and the Constitution.
New U. S. attorneys are typically given the speech that Attorney General Robert H. Jackson gave new attorneys in the 1940s. He warned them that they were chosen by a political process but that politics could play no role in their work or justice would be betrayed.
Prosecutors have awesome power, he said, and they had to use it cautiously and without favor.
He warned them particularly about picking out a person to prosecute or investigate for political reasons. “It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views....”
The fired prosecutors were not going after Democrats with enough vigor or else were prosecuting Republicans.Gonzales’ replacement, Michael Mukasey, says those days are over. The inspector general’s report is evidence of it. Now it remains for the special prosecutor to see that justice is actually done.

EDITORIAL >>We’re read in Congress

We’re not sure if our Wednesday editorial, “Bailout plan must pass,” swayed any votes on Friday in the House of Representatives, which finally passed a $700 billion rescue bill to shore up an economy that’s been on the brink since summer.
Cong. Vic Snyder’s office tells us the editorial was passed around in Congress, along with a handful of others from the Dallas Morning News, Washington Post and Boston Herald that supported the bailout plan, which we favored only reluctantly as a necessary step toward preventing a deeper recession.
After the House voted down the bill on Monday, some 30 votes switched in support on Friday, allowing for easy passage of the bill, which was also overwhelmingly approved in the Senate two days earlier.
Those votes, if not our editorial, may have saved Main Street and the nation.

TOP STORY >>City seeks to unload its hospital

Leader staff writer

“It’s very difficult to maintain a hospital these days,” Mayor Tommy Swaim told the city council Thursday night as he asked permission to make a change in the lease, making it easier for Jacksonville to unload its city-owned hospital, North Metro Medical Center.
The mayor said cities across the state are having difficulties. Two cities — Dardanelle and Stuttgart — recently worked agreements with other entities to take over their hospitals, while Lake Village and Malvern residents approved tax increases to keep their hospitals.
The mayor said a tax increase was out of the question. “It’s just not a viable solution,” Swaim said, “because of the closeness of other facilities.” So, instead, the city has been shopping the hospital to a variety of companies and entities.
“We have two entities that are interested. One is a for-profit group and the other is a nonprofit group,” the mayor said.
The current lease agreement with the city only allows a nonprofit group to take over the hospital.
The council voted to change the lease to allow a for-profit group to operate the hospital, which is now run by a management firm from Brentwood, Tenn.
The mayor said the city didn’t know which of the two prospects would take over the hospital, or if another group might come forward, but the change in the lease gives the city maximum opportunity to work out something positive for everyone, according to the mayor.
Before voting for the lease agreement change, Alderman Gary Fletcher expressed concerns about changes in the quality and services of the hospital. Fletcher, who spent time in the hospital recently with his ailing father, said the quality of care was excellent. “The word just hasn’t gotten out how good the hospital is,” he said. “I’m worried about any disruption of services,” Fletcher said.
The mayor said the purpose of North Metro was to provide medical care for the community. He said in the negotiations with the two entities it will be clear that the facility will be, as a minimum, an acute care hospital with an emergency room. “Whichever entity takes over the hospital may bring in other specialties to the hospital,” the mayor said.
The resolution, which the council unanimously approved, authorizes the mayor to negotiate and execute all the necessary paperwork in effort to secure a long term lease for the operation of the hospital “to continue meeting the medical needs and requirements of local residents and citizens.”
No timetable for signing over the hospital to another entity was announced.
In other council business:
*Aldermen approved spending$19,500 to replace about 2,000 square feet of roofing on the police department building.
*The council approved a resolution saying it would be happy to receive and use and federal money from the Safe Routes to School Program. The city has received these funds in the past and used the money to build sidewalks leading to and from schools within the city limits.
*Alderman approved an ordinance allowing the city clerk to destroy duplicate and old, unneeded records.
“By law,” the mayor explained, “we need to keep some records permanently, and others for three to seven years.” The city currently has some records dating back 35 years.

TOP STORY >>Broader mission for air base

Leader senior staff writer

It was nothin’ but blue skies Wednesday at Little Rock Air Force Base as Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, Jr. changed hats but not homes to become commanding officer of the newly minted 19th Airlift Wing, while remaining Little Rock Air Force Base commander.
“Although I’m handing over the flag, I’m not leaving,” Schatz said. He said he was glad he would still be working with many of the same airmen in his new command.
The 19th AW took operational control from the 314th Airlift Wing, which now becomes the tenant.
“Thanks to the community leaders,” he said. “We could not do what we do without your support.”
“The community will embrace the Hydes,” Schatz said. “Colonel, you are in for the ride of your life.”
Col. Charles Hyde took command of the 314th, Air Education and Training Wing, a vacancy created by Schatz’s new post as commander of the 19th Airlift Wing.
Schatz had commanded the 314th AW at Little Rock since May 2007.
Airmen in fatigues, flight suits, service dress blues and open-collar short-sleeved uniform as well as retirees, guests from the community, local mayors and representatives of the area’s congressional delegation were cooled by the breeze and warmed by the sun as the change of command ceremony took place on the tarmack against a back drop of C-130s and C-130Js. The Air Force Band of Mid America performed.
The 19th AW is an expeditionary wing and is charged with planning and executing airlift operations around the world, now hosts the base. But as the world’s primary C-130 schoolhouse, the 314th will continue its indispensable task of training virtually all C-130 and C-130J pilots, crews and maintainers for all U.S. Armed Forces and allies.
Units involved in base operations were formally transferred from the 314th to the new host, the 19th Airlift Wing, while those involved in training remained in the 314th.
“We must win today’s fight while preparing for the future,” said Maj. Gen. Windfield W. Scott III, Commander of the 18th Air Force, based at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
“Schotzie, you have a vital role as the Air Force moves forward with new ways of doing business,” Scott said. “Your leadership is key to their success.”
Hyde told his new command, “The one constant is change,” but he said they would “continue the mission of training the best and depending upon the strength and professionalism of the trainers.
The 463 Air Lift Wing, which had distinguished itself in extensive action in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, was deactivated during the ceremony, its flag—guidon—furled until perhaps some future time.
Hyde is a command pilot with more than 3,700 hours in both the C-130E and C-130H, as well as the T-37.
Hyde comes to Little Rock from Ali Al Salem, Kuwait, where he was the vice commander of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, the primary tactical airlift hub for resupply missions supporting coalition operations in Iraq and providing combat support to land-component forces throughout Kuwait and Iraq.
The 463 Air Lift Wing, based at Little Rock and which has seen extensive service in the Middle East was deactivated and it was replaced by the 19th Air Lift Wing.
Gen. Schatz led the 314th with distinction, training over 2,000 crew members and maintainers, said Major Gen. Gregory A. Feest, commander of the 19th Air Force, a training command based at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.
Feest called Hyde “the perfect leader” for the 314th, noting he was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
“The 314th stands tall, he said, providing airlift support any time, anywhere, embodying the expeditionary sprit.”
He said the 314th had received the outstanding unit award for exceptional, meritorious service.”
At the ceremony’s end, three distant, northbound airborne C-130Js turned east for a low-altitude flyover.

TOP STORY >>Bankers ride out financial turmoil

Leader senior staff writer

The $700 billion economic bailout President Bush signed into law Friday afternoon may have been necessary, according to hometown banker Larry Wilson, but so far none of the dire effects threatened by proponents have surfaced here, at least not in locally-owned community banks.
Wilson thinks the national media have contributed to a false notion that credit is frozen, businesses, home buyers and car buyers can’t get loans—that there has been a credit constriction.
“It seems to feed on itself,” he said.
Wilson, president of his family’s First Arkansas Bank and Trust, said his bank may have slightly tightened credit requirements on mortgages and various loans, but that there has been no constriction of credit here.
If people are having difficulty getting short-term credit—California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson to loan the state $7 billion for payroll and expenses—it hasn’t shown up in Arkansas, Wilson said.
“Our depositors are still depositing,” he added. We still have that money to lend.”
First Arkansas headquartered on Main Street Jacksonville, has 26 branch offices ranging from North Little Rock to Marshall.
“We have money available for loans like always,” Wilson said.
He said loan officers might pay a bit more attention to the job history of a mortgage applicant or the solvency of the applicant’s employer.
First Arkansas Bank and Trust originates about 500 to 600 mortgages a year, generally selling them to a secondary market.
By way of comparison, the bank wrote 35 home loans in September 2007 worth $4.4 million. In September of this year, the bank wrote 43 home loans worth $6.2 million. That’s more mortgages for more money.
He said there has been no change in the amount of money needed for down payment terms or in interest rates, he said.
“We were never involved with sub prime mortgages,” Wilson said. There is no deposit drain. Our bank is strongly capitalized.”
Mortgage initiators are required to buy back bad mortgages within one year, Wilson said. “In seven or eight years we’ve had to buy back one mortgage.”
“We are the largest bank with the highest capital-to-assets ratio.”
He said some larger banks with significant portfolios of sub prime mortgages might be short of capital.
“I suspect that locally owned banks in Arkansas aren’t having that problem.”
“All banks have a little more difficult time in an economic downturn,” Wilson said.
“Our banks are handling the economic downturn fairly well, holding our own,” Candace Franks said Friday afternoon. She is state Banking Commissioner, and her take was about the same as Wilson’s.
“I have a few banks that have problems, but a few do time to time. Profitability is down industry-wide. But we didn’t get into sub prime loans. Community banks are pretty conservative.”
She said the bailout would help with liquidity issues worldwide.
“I’m pleased to see the increase (from $100,000 to $250,000) in federal deposit insurance,” she said. “The Public had been concerned.”
“I’m fairly optimistic that we will do fairly well during the (economic) downturn,” Franks said. “We don’t have the peaks and valleys in Arkansas. Our banks tend to be pretty conservative, focused o their communities.”
“For our market and our customers, money’s available,” Wilson said. “For people with good credit, a good job and good income, they aren’t going to have trouble getting a loan.”

TOP STORY >>Agency supports North Belt Loop route

Leader senior staff writer

The Federal Highway Administra-tion has issued a record of decision setting the path that the North Belt Freeway will eventually take between the bean field at Hwy. 67/167 on the east and I-430 and I-40 at Crystal Hill on the west, according to Randy Ort, spokesman for the state Highway Department.
After years of study, public hearings and environmental-impact statements, then years more of the same, the city of Sherwood, Metroplan, the state Highway and Transportation Department and the federal high-way department all agree on the route in general. But the agreed-upon route is still 200-feet wide, and Highway Department engineers can move within that corridor to minimize the impact upon homeowners, the environment, costs or other considerations, Ort said.
The actual record of decision was issued Sept. 23, but only reached the Highway Department on Friday, he said.
“This will allow us to start sending survey crews out . . . to design a roadway,” Ort said.
“There is no money for construction, but we can continue to work on this project,” he said. “I don’t know when they will start.”
The 12.7-mile project will cost an estimated $347 million.
Of that, $320 million would be for construction, $14.8 million for right of way, $10.9 million for utilities and $1 million for relocation costs.
While no money has been identified to build the project, there is $4 million available to begin purchasing right of way, according to Jim McKenzie, director of Metroplan.
It would require conversion of 707 acres of right of way, according to the environmental impact statement.
The route east from I-40 at Crystal Hill was described like this:
From the western end of the proposed project at Interstate 40, the Preferred Alternative goes to the northeast through the Crystal Hill community to an interchange at Highway 365.
From there, it continues to the northeast into Camp Robinson, passing to the southeast of the Camp Robinson Army Airfield. Briefly turning to the southeast then east, the route passes to the north of Engineers Lake before turning to the northeast again to cross Batesville Pike just to the north of Maryland Avenue and the North Little Rock Municipal Airport.
Part of the route includes relocating a portion of Batesville Pike outside Camp
From the Batesville Pike Interchange the route continues northeast, to the west of Wayside Drive, and
Crosses Kellogg Acres Road just to the north of the intersection with Oakdale Road. It
Continues east just north of Oakdale Road and then southeast with an interchange proposed at
Highway 107. The Preferred Alternative turns to the northeast when crossing Fears Lake and
Back to the southeast, crossing Oneida Street before connecting with the Highway 67

SPORTS >>Hurricane rages

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils surrendered 426 yards and 24 first downs to Jonesboro on Friday night, but it was the offense that had head coach Mark Whatley upset afterward.
Dropped passes, poor pass protection and a limited running game put the Red Devil defense in a huge hole all night long and the new-look Hurricane cashed in with a 31-13 victory at Jan Crow Field.
“We’ve got to go back to re-emphasizing catching the ball before we run with it,” said Whatley, whose Red Devils fell to 2-3 on the season and 1-1 in 6A-East play. “We made a couple of big plays, put a couple of good drives together. But we couldn’t make the big play when we need to.
“From an offensive standpoint, we didn’t block them and we didn’t catch the football.”
In fact, the Red Devils had a total of only seven possessions the entire evening and controlled the ball for just a little over 18 of the 48 minutes.
Jonesboro, under first-year head coach Randy Coleman, seems to have adapted quite well to the Spread offense, as quarterback Carter Callahan torched the Devil secondary for 25 of 36 passing for 259 yards, including three touchdowns.
What made the Hurricane so tough to defend, though, was the added dimension of running back Kowan Wright, who rumbled for 133 yards on 24 carries.
“It’s a pretty tough offense to stop,” Whatley said. “Especially on a night like tonight when we’re leaving the defense out on the field like we did.”
Jacksonville, meanwhile, showed flashes of effectiveness out of its multi-weaponed offense, but with the running attack suffering, the Joneboro front line teed off on sophomore quarterback Logan Perry, sacking him three times and keeping him mostly out of rhythm.
Callahan’s 35-yard field goal three-and-a-half minutes into the game staked the Hurricane (4-1, 2-0) to a 3-0 lead.
Jacksonville responded with a long 15-play, 77-yard drive to take a 7-3 lead on Patrick Geans’ 1-yard run with 2:30 left in the opening period.
But the Jonesboro offense answered right back with its own long drive. Callahan connected with A.J. Steele from two yards with 10:27 left in the first half and the Hurricane never trailed again.
The Red Devils escaped the first of their three turnovers on the night after fumbling the ensuing kickoff at the 19. But the defense stiffened and Callahan missed a 25-yard field goal.
But the Hurricane cashed in their next opportunity, mixing the pass and the run to go 64 yards in eight plays. Wright’s 3-yard run before half had Jonesboro in command, 17-7.
Jonesboro committed its only turnover of the night with a fumble two minutes into the second half. Cordero Shelton pounced on it at midfield, but the Red Devils ran out of downs at the 32.
Jonesboro then deflated the Devils by marching 68 yards on 14 plays, ending in Callahan’s 5-yard scoring strike to Steele and the Hurricane increased the lead to 24-7 midway though the third period.
Jacksonville came to life, if only briefly, when Perry hit Demetris Harris for 20 yards and the Red Devils reached the Jonesboro 28.
But the Hurricane all but put it away when Jake Ferguson stepped in front of a Perry pass at the 25 and returned it 40 yards to the Jacksonville 35.
With Callahan able to stand in the pocket and look for receivers, the Hurricane needed just six plays to make it 31-7. This time, Callahan hooked up with Daniel Rodely from five yards 28 seconds into the final period.
The Red Devils put together their second good drive of the night, converting an improbable third-and-14 on a 38-yard Logan-to-Geans pass, and an even more unlikely fourth-and-27 on a hook a lateral play from Perry to Stan Appleby to Harris. A face mask moved the ball to the 14 and two plays later, Harris hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Perry.
Perry finished 19 of 33 for 193 yards and two interceptions. Geans carried eight times — all in the first half — for 22 yards. With three sacks totaling 26 yards in losses, the Red Devils managed just two yards on 15 carries on the night and 195 yards overall.
“They are very balanced and Coach Whatley does a great job of calling plays,” said Coleman, whose club surrendered 46 points a week ago to Parkview. “But we controlled both sides of the line and put a lot of pressure on their young quarterback. The great thing about this week is (Jacksonville) runs a lot of the same plays that we run so our defense has seen those plays since spring.”
Harris caught six passes for 63 yards, while Terrell Brown and Appleby each hauled in four passes.
The Red Devils will try to rebound when they visit Little Rock Hall next Friday.

SPORTS >>Rockets hold on to hand Panthers first loss

Leader sportswriter

To the wire doesn’t even begin to describe Cabot’s tough 35-28 loss to Little Rock Catholic Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Seth Bloomberg had one final shot to tie the game for the Panthers in the final three seconds, but on fourth down from the Catholic 6, he was sacked and Catholic held on for the win.
The Panthers had burned up all of their timeouts before the final minute, which left them scrambling to the line as the clock ticked. Chris Bayles converted a first down to take the ball into Catholic territory with 1:48 remaining, trying to reach the sideline.
The Catholic secondary didn’t allow that to happen, forcing Cabot coach Mike Malham to burn his final timeout.
“It was a funny game,” Malham said. “We got off to a good start, but we helped them out a little bit in the first half. They have a good team, we knew that coming in. I thought our defense played great at times, and then we had some letdowns. We had a pretty good night. We moved the ball pretty good, did a good job, but it just came down to right there at the end and didn’t get it done.”
The Panthers avoided a turnover on downs when Bloomberg hit Justin Wortman for a 25-yard completion that put the ball at the Catholic 10. The defense stiffened from there, keeping Cabot inbounds and out of the end zone.
“This has got to be big – we’re 2-0 in the conference,” Catholic coach Ellis “Scooter” Register said after the game. “We’ve got to take care of business one week at a time. My defense did a great job. (Springer) got hurt Tuesday in practice. He dislocated his elbow. He told me he was going to play – I knew he would. He couldn’t even raise his arm on Wednesday. I don’t know what his stats are, but that’s a gamer.”
It would have been the second improbable comeback for Cabot. Trailing 28-21 with 7:45 left in the game, Nick McTague fell on a Rocket fumble to give the Panthers possession at the Catholic 36, and a personal foul penalty against the Rockets moved the ball to the 21-yard line.
Bayles and Michael James took it from there in four plays, with James busting through the Catholic defensive line on fourth and 2 for a 13-yard touchdown scramble. Logan Spry’s extra-point knotted it up at 28-all, but his ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds, giving the Rockets good field position at their own 35 with 5:56 left in the game.
Catholic quarterback Taylor Bartlett wasted little time in finding John Dominic III on a 36-yard pass down the right side on the fifth play of the drive to put the ball at the Cabot 1-yard line, and it only took two sneak attempts for Bartlett to push across the game-winner.
Cabot’s only lead came on its opening possession. The drive lasted 12 plays, with James’ number being called for the final seven. His biggest run was only five yards, but two of them were good enough to convert first downs. He capped it off with a 1-yard rumble with 4:24 left in the first quarter, with Spry’s point-after making it 7-0.
The Cabot secondary had its hands full all night with the Rocket receivers, namely senior John Springer. Springer put the Rockets on the board for the first time with a 42-yard reception down the right side with 40 seconds left in the opening frame.
Garrett Uekman was Bartlett’s best target on the next Catholic drive. He pulled down a 27-yard toss from Bartlett to set up the next score before Bartlett began to find Springer again on the Rockets’ last touchdown of the first half. Springer had back-to-back completions of 28 and 35 yards to push the ball in the red zone, and Aaron Chwalinski capped off the drive with a 5-yard run with 2:46 left in the first half.
James was able to answer one of those scores for Cabot with 5:32 left in the second quarter. The junior fullback bulled his way in from 1-yard out for the second of his four touchdowns to tie it at 14-14.
James led the way for Cabot with 22 rushes for 114 yards and all four Panther scores. Bayles added 89 yards on 13 carries. The Panthers had 331 yards of total offense. Spencer Neumann led defensively with 10 tackles.
For Catholic, Bartlett was 22 of 30 passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns. The Rockets had 400 yards of total offense.
The Panthers will host North Little Rock, an 18-10 winner over Conway on Friday. Catholic will host Van Buren, a 28-13 loser to Bryant.

SPORTS >>Cats strike early, often in easy win

Special to the Leader

SEARCY – Two teams headed in opposite directions refused to change courses here Friday night at First Security Stadium. Harding Academy quarterback Seth Keese was perfect in the first half as the Wildcats thumped 3A-2 Conference foe England, 45-6.
Harding Academy improved to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in league play. England remained winless on the season at 0-5.
Keese, a sophomore, completed all 11 of his passes for 205 yards and 4 touchdowns before tweaking his ankle late in the first half. Matt Lincoln, the Wildcats’ starter at quarterback last season, stepped in and tossed a touchdown pass of his own to give Harding Academy a 38-0 halftime lead.
With the 35-point Sportmanship Rule in effect and a running clock for the entirety of the second half, the Wildcats tacked on another score. Harding Academy’s reserves gave up a touchdown in the game’s final minute.
“We prepare to execute … that’s what we do,” Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote said afterward. “I didn’t know Seth was 11-11. That’s fantastic. We were able to get the ball into a lot of different people’s hands and that’s good. The offensive line worked hard tonight.”
England opened with its biggest bang of the night, recovering an onside kick to start the game. The Lions drove to the Harding Academy 31 before Demarcus Bunch fumbled and Braxton Bennett recovered for the Wildcats. A seven-play drive that took less than three minutes was capped by Keese’s first touchdown toss, a 4-yarder to tailback Ty Finley. Zach Medley booted the score to 7-0 with 7:26 left in the opening quarter.
The Lions coughed up the ball again on their next play and Keese hit Bennett on a screen for a 31-yard score. The Wildcats pushed the lead to 21-0 less than four minutes later when Keese connected with Tyler Gentry on a 63-yard catch-and-run off another screen pass.
England drove again to the Harding Academy 31, but quarterback Derrick Davis’ pass to Bunch was short of the first down and the Wildcats went back to work. A 20-yard completion from Keese to Lincoln and an 11-yarder to Gentry set up a 24-yard scoring toss from Keese to Lincoln. Finley ran for two points and HA led 29-0.
Gentry threatened another big play when he returned an England punt for what looked like an easy score but fumbled the ball away at the Lions’ 1. England’s Mark Hatton was stopped in the Lions’ end zone on the first play for a safety and a 31-0 Wildcat lead.
Harding Academy took the kick and used a 22-yard pass from Keese to Gentry to set up Lincoln’s TD pass.
Mote said after the game that Keese had rolled his ankle on a run before Lincoln took over.
Gentry opened the second half by picking off a Davis pass. On the Wildcats’ first play of the half, Finley galloped 35 yards for a 45-0 lead. Harding Academy’s reserves kept the ball nearly 11 minutes – with the running clock, before turning it over on downs at the England 11.
Davis connected with Matt Russell on a 70-yard pass to the HA 1 before Davis broke the shutout by plunging over the middle.
After running roughshod over its competition for the first five weeks, the Wildcats expect a challenge next Friday when they travel to meet unbeaten Barton. Though the Bears, a traditional power, were forced to cancel their season last year due to low numbers, Barton is sitting at 5-0.
“We’re just going to come out and get to work on Monday and start preparing,” Mote said.
The Wildcats had 383 total yards, compared to just 176 for the Lions. Seventy of that came on one play against HA reserves. Lincoln finished 3-of-6 passing for 40 yards. Seven different receivers caught passes for the Wildcats, led by Gentry’s four catches for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Harding Academy ran for 138 yards. Finley had 59 on 7 carries and Keese had 6 carries for 47 yards.