Friday, July 25, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney can’t hold lead, loses in semis

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – Thanks to several early Fort Smith miscues, the Jacksonville-Gwatney Chevrolet Senior American Legion team jumped out to a six-run lead over the favored Kerwins Sportsmen team in the semifinals of the Zone 1 American Legion tournament at Hendrix College on Tuesday, but Fort Smith was able to steadily battle back and escape with a 10-8 win.

Jacksonville scored three runs in the first inning alone, all of which were unearned, and led 6-0 at the end of three by scoring a run in the second and adding two more in the third.

However, Fort Smith, who entered Tuesday night’s semifinal as the only unbeaten team left in tournament play with a 3-0 record, scored four runs in the fifth and seventh innings to get back in the game.

The Kerwins Sportsmen team was able to hold the Chevy Boys scoreless in the final three innings of play, and scored runs in the eighth and ninth innings to set the final score.

Jacksonville, the home team on the scoreboard, held Fort Smith scoreless in the top of the first inning, and Gwatney leadoff hitter Courtland McDonald started things off for Jacksonville with a single to left fieldJacksonville with a single to left field in the bottom part of the inning.

McDonald stole second base before cleanup hitter Greg Jones reached via walk. Shortstop Derek St. Clair walked the next at-bat to load the bases, and first baseman Brandon Hickingbotham was next up for Jacksonville, batting in the six hole.

Hickingbotham hit a hard chopper to the mound that was fielded cleanly by the Fort Smith pitcher, but the throw to first was way high, and the errant throw allowed the first two runs to score.

As Hickingbotham ran to second on the same play, another errant throw followed by the Fort Smith first baseman, and as the ball sailed into left-center field, St. Clair scored with ease to give the Chevy Boys a 3-0 cushion.

In the second inning, Jacksonville’s D.J. Scott reached base safely on an infield single to shortstop, and teammate Laderrious Perry tried to advance Scott to second base the next at-bat with a bunt. However, Fort Smith was able to get the force at second for a fielder’s choice.

Perry later stole second base then third on a bad pickoff attempt, and scored shortly after on a wild pitch, which put Jacksonville on top 4-0. In the bottom of the third, Hickingbotham singled to right field to start things off for Jacksonville, and starting pitcher James Tucker was hit by a pitch the following at-bat.

Two outs and three batters later, Ryan Mallison drove in Hickingbotham with a single to right field, and Tucker scored the next at-bat on a single to the gap in left field by Blake Perry.

The score remained 6-0 Jacksonville till the fifth inning, when Kerwins scored its first four runs of the game. Jacksonville’s final two runs came in the bottom of the sixth.

Blake Perry led off that inning with a single, and Jones followed with a single to center field. With no outs, St. Clair laid down a sac bunt that turned into a bunt single, and even though St. Clair would’ve beaten the throw regardless, the throw to first was made, but off the mark.

The errant throw allowed Blake Perry to score with ease, which made it 7-4 Jacksonville, and put Jones and St. Clair at third and second base. After St. Clair’s single, Hickingbotham sent Jones across the plate with a sac fly to left field, and that gave the Chevy Boys an 8-4 lead.

Fort Smith rallied its next at-bat in the top of the seventh with another four-run inning, tying the game at 8-8, and Kerwins took the lead for good the next time around in the top of the eighth.

The Kerwins leadoff man walked to start the inning, and advanced to second base the next AB on a single by Jorden Lawrence. A 6-3 groundout followed, putting the go-ahead run at third, and Jacksonville’s relief pitcher balked with the go-ahead run at third, which allowed that run to cross home plate and give Fort Smith its first lead of the night at 9-8.

Fort Smith’s next insurance run came in the top of the ninth. Leadoff hitter Colby Demato hit a stand-up triple to open the inning, and he scored three batters later on a single to right field by cleanup hitter Houston Kennedy.

Jacksonville had two on in the bottom of the ninth, but failed to get either runner home, which allowed Fort Smith to move on to Wednesday’s final against Cabot.

Even though Jacksonville lost Tuesday, it still qualified for the state tournament that starts today in Bryant by being one of the top four finishers in the Zone 1 tournament, along with North Little Rock, Fort Smith and Cabot. Jacksonville finished the Zone 1 tourney with a 2-2 record.

Jacksonville was outhit Tuesday 16-10. Mallison and Blake Perry led the Chevy Boys with two hits each, while teammates McDonald, Jones, St. Clair, Hickingbotham, Tucker and Scott had one hit apiece.

Demato led Fort Smith, and all batters, at the plate, going 4 for 6 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

Jacksonville plays Mountain Home in the first round of the state tournament at 10 a.m. today.

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills new field surface costing $700K

Leader sports editor

August 22 is the target date for completion of the new field turf being installed on Bill Blackwood Field at Sylvan Hills High School. It cuts the margin for delay quite thin. The Bears’ football team has a Blue-White scrimmage game scheduled for that same night, and a scrimmage game with Joe T. Robinson set for Aug. 25.

If there are any delays, Sylvan Hills athletic director Denny Tipton said backup plans have already been made.

“We can always move them if we have to, but hopefully everything will go on as scheduled,” said Tipton. “It all depends on the weather.”

The turf isn’t the only thing changing at Blackwood Field. Long-term plans are for the entire stadium to get a complete overhaul. Phase one includes a new playing surface, new entryway into the stadium, new fencing around the stadium, new asphalt for the coach’s parking lot and other areas inside the stadium, new surface for the track and new goal posts.

Cost estimate is about $1.5 million. The turf alone will cost about $700,000 and is being paid for entirely through donations to and sponsorships through the Sylvan Hills Bears Foundation. The Pulaski County Special School District paid for the new pavement and the new entryway is receiving work and money donations.

Tipton was hesitant to give a total cost to the foundation on the entryway because of the donations still being gathered.

“On paper it will be a six-figure job,” Tipton said. “But we’re getting a lot of donations. People giving money and even doing some of the work.”

Phase two will include building new seating and a new press box on what is currently the visitors’ side of the field and swapping home and visitor sides.

“We hope it’s not too long term,” Tipton said. “That’s phase two and we hope to start on it soon. We just have to complete phase one first.”

The football team is currently practicing exclusively on the practice field while track coach Grover Garrison has his athletes working out in the school parking lot. Sylvan Hills football coach Jim Withrow said the current inconveniences are minor compared to the benefits of having the turf.

“Usually right now we’re out seeding and all that because all the activities on it all year kill it,” said Withrow of the former grass field. “It’s going to be nice to not be dragging grass in here after every practice and having to try to sweep all that out all the time. You don’t have to avoid practicing on it if it gets a little wet. It’s just going to be a great thing.”

Even if there is a delay that causes changes to the preseason schedule, the football team should be in no danger of hindering any regular-season games. The Bears’ first regular-season home game is scheduled for Sept. 19 against Newport in week three of the football season.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot defeats NLR, settles for two seed

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – The Cabot-Centennial Bank Senior American Legion team bounced back from a disappointing loss to Fort Smith on Monday in the Zone 1 Senior American Legion tournament to beat North Little Rock 6-4 in Tuesday’s semifinal at the Hendrix College baseball field.

Cabot and North Little Rock each entered Tuesday’s matchup with a 2-1 record in Zone tournament play, which guaranteed both teams a berth in the state tournament that starts today at Bryant.

Even though Cabot had already locked up a berth in the state tournament, Centennial Bank coach Chris Gross wanted his team to finish on a higher note than it did Monday against Fort Smith, a game which the head coach says his team didn’t show up ready to play for.

“I think they showed up today,” said Gross after Tuesday’s win over NLR. “I think the heat got to some of them, but they definitely showed up ready to play today.”

Both teams went scoreless in the first inning Tuesday, but Cabot took the game’s first lead with a run scored in the top of the second. After a groundout by Gavin Tillery, Cabot’s Hayden Vinson was hit by a pitch to get on base.

Vinson advanced to second base the next at-bat on a sacrifice bunt by Grayson Cole, and with two outs, left fielder Grant Bell hit a triple to deep rightcenter to drive in Vinson for the game’s first run.

Centennial Bank’s next run came in the top of the third. Starting pitcher Kason Kimbrell walked to lead off the inning. He stole second base and went to third on an infield hit by Ryan Logan.

The next at-bat, Kimbrell scored on a sac fly to center field by cleanup hitter Landon James. North Little Rock scored its first run in the bottom part of the inning, and Cabot got two more on its side of the board in the top of the fourth.

Vinson singled to right center to start the inning. He stole second base and scored two batters later on a stand-up double to left center by Bell, which made it 3-1 Cabot. Bell later scored on a two-out single to the gap in right field by Kimbrell.

North Little Rock, however, managed to cut its deficit to one with two runs scored in the bottom of the fourth, but Cabot scored again in the sixth to lead 5-3. Shortstop Conner Vocque walked to start the inning, and Kimbrell followed with his second single of the game.

That brought Logan to the plate, and with the hit and run on, Logan delivered with a timely single to the right-field gap, which allowed Vocque to score with ease and give the Centennial Bank squad the 5-3 cushion.

Cabot got an insurance run in the top of the ninth to push its lead to three before North Little Rock scored its final run in the bottom part of the inning to set the final score at 6-4.

Adam Hicks led off the top of the ninth with a single to center field, and catcher Tristan Bulice was hit by a pitch to put Hicks at second. Tillery then laid down a bunt to advance both runners.

North Little Rock tried to get Hicks out at third base, but the throw was off the mark, which allowed Hicks to score Centennial Bank’s sixth and final run of the game.

Cabot used three different pitchers Tuesday. Kimbrell threw the first four and one-third innings and earned the win. He finished with five strikeouts in that time. Tillery pitched into the ninth inning and gave up no earned runs on just three hits before turning pitching duties over to Logan, who earned the save.

Centennial Bank outhit NLR 12-8. Bell, Logan and Kimbrell led Cabot with two hits apiece, while teammates Vocque, James, Bulice, Vinson, Hicks and Lee Sullivan each had one hit.

North Little Rock second baseman Will Hopkins led all batters, going 3 for 3 with two RBIs.

Cabot was scheduled to take on Fort Smith in Wednesday’s Zone 1 championship game, but the game was canceled because of storms. Since the state tournament begins today and Fort Smith beat Cabot head-to-head, Fort Smith will be the No. 1 seed from Zone 1 and Cabot will be the two. Cabot will play Texarkana at 4:30 p.m. today.

Look for details of that game and subsequent Cabot state tournament games in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

EDITORIAL >> Achievements please schools

Talk about being the elite of the elite — Lonoke Middle School and Searcy’s Ahlf Junior High are in sky-high company.

All the students at those two schools who took the Algebra I end-of-course exam scored advanced. That bears repeating; 100 percent of Lonoke and Searcy students taking the test landed in the top category of the state. Only five schools in the entire state can say that, and two are in our area.

There is some teaching and learning going on in area schools! Flip the coin, however, and recently released tests also show there are area schools in trouble.

But, first, congratulations to Beebe, where its students scored proficient or advanced on the Algebra I test.

Plus, a big shout out to Cabot Junior High North and Cabot Junior High South as all their students taking the geometry end-of-course exam scored proficient or better.

But why take these tests in the first place? For the most part, they show what teachers, parents, administrators and the general public usually already know.

Does the Lonoke principal need the Algebra I end-of-course test results to know those middle school teachers and students are great? No. Principal Jeannie Holt knows.

Even though Lonoke, Searcy, Beebe and Cabot can brag “officially” on their students, Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman and Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook were bragging about their flock long before test scores came out because they knew teaching and learning were going on.

The dedicated teaching is not only at the middle school level, but started in kindergarten and elementary schools when strong foundations were built to give students what they needed to do well on the state exams.

But the tests overall dampen the good news because the overall news for the state is not good.

Of the more than 30,000 Arkansas students who took the Algebra I test, only 30 percent scored advanced, and thousands scored so poorly that they have to retake the test.

So instead of bragging headlines, most districts have to deal with the “Oh my gosh, what is wrong here?” results of the test.

Unfortunately, for Jacksonville High School, which has improved in the last few years, teaching and learning still fall short, with just 38 percent of its students scoring proficient or advanced. But the blame is not all on the high school — it filters all the way down to kindergarten.

Is the new Jacksonville school district going to be the cure-all?

To put it bluntly, no. But it will go a long way toward changing the poor attitude and stigma that sticks to the Pulaski County Special School District, and that alone will bring up test scores.

— Rick Kron

EDITORIAL >> Boyd levels with public

Jacksonville Police Chief Kenny Boyd said Monday his department will begin informing the media about all armed robberies even when the victim is not hurt or not much money is stolen.

The policy change recommits the department’s support of being open to the public after being criticized in these pages for not warning residents about a string of ATM robberies that ended with a fatal shooting in December.

We argued then that the murder might have been prevented had residents been told that it was dangerous to use cash machines after dark, and that the thief would have been less brazen had word gotten out that the police were on his trail.

In tell-it-like-it-is fashion, Boyd, who was the spokesman for the police department at the time of the murder, now says the public should have been told about the robberies as a matter of public safety, but that the three robberies had not yet been connected.

Even so, police departments should alert the public when a dangerous criminal is on the loose: Just one ATM robbery should have been enough to issue a warning. Boyd agrees.

The thief had held up two customers at ATMs before the crime spree ended when a young man was gunned down after he refused to hand over his $20 withdrawal.

Lerome Deshawn Kelley, a 19-year-old with little to his name, approached his victims while he rode on a bicycle, armed with a handgun. Cops quickly arrested him after the murder when they found his abandoned bike. That’s good police work.

The department will also begin releasing dozens more police reports weekly to help The Leader better inform our readers, Boyd said.

This level of responsiveness is uncommon from public officials, who often take criticism as a personal rebuke instead of a constructive review of their performance.

Boyd, who took over as interim police chief in May when Gary Sipes stepped down to run for mayor, has been with the department for 26 years. He deserves to be given the job permanently. And since he appears to have the support of both candidates in the November election, it’s likely he’ll get it. We hope so.

TOP STORY >> Williams touts sales-tax break

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) plans to buy clothes and school supplies for his family on the weekend of Saturday, Aug. 2 and Sunday, Aug. 3, to take advantage of the Arkansas sales tax holiday.

The legislature created the sales tax holiday in 2011 with the passage of Act 757 to help families with children in school. It is commonly known as the “Back to School” sales tax because it happens on the first weekend in August of every year, when families are preparing for the upcoming school year.

“You don’t have to have kids in school to benefit,” Williams said.

“Basically, it is a weekend on which sales of clothes, accessories and school supplies are exempt from state and local sales taxes,” he said.

“My children are grown, but I plan to take advantage of the tax holiday to get clothes and school supplies for my grandkids,” Williams said.

“The list of items that will be exempt from the sales tax is pretty impressive,” Williams said. “The state sales tax is 6.5 percent and a lot of cities and counties collect an additional local-option sales tax, so shoppers will definitely notice the savings when they get to the cash register.”

Clothing and footwear that cost less than $100 per item will qualify for the exemption.

“But remember, if you buy an item that costs more than $100, you’ll have to pay the state and local sales taxes on the entire amount,” Williams said.

Here’s an example provided by the state Department of Finance and Administration: A shopper buys two shirts for $50 each, a pair of jeans for $75 and a pair of shoes for $125. The sales tax will only be collected on the shoes.

Even though the total price of the shirts and the jeans added up to $175, no sales tax will be collected on them because each individual item cost less than $100.

Accessories costing less than $50 qualify for the exemption. Examples include wallets, watches, jewelry, sunglasses, handbags, cosmetics, briefcases, hair notions, wigs and hair pieces.

School supplies also qualify, including binders, book bags, calculators, tape, paper, pencils, scissors, notebooks, folders and glue.

Textbooks, reference books, maps, globes and workbooks will be exempt from sales taxes. So will art supplies needed for art class, such as clay and glazes, paint, brushes and drawing pads.

Even bathing suits and beach wear will be exempt from the sales tax, as long as they cost less than $100 per item.

Diapers and disposable diapers will not be taxed. Boots, including steel-toed boots, slippers, sneakers and sandals will be exempt from the sales tax as well.

Williams listed some popular items that will not be exempt, which means that retail stores will collect a sales tax when you purchase them. Those items include sporting goods, like cleats and spikes worn by baseball, soccer and football players.

Recreational items, such as skates, shoulder pads, shin guards and ski boots will be taxed as well, Williams said.

Computers, software and computer equipment are not exempt, and you will have to pay sales taxes if you purchase those items on the holiday, he said.

All retail stores must participate and may not legally collect any state or local sales taxes on qualified items during the tax holiday. Also, there is no limit on the number of items you buy that are tax exempt, as long as each individual item costs less than $100, or less than $50, if it is an accessory.

TOP STORY >> It’s back to normal at LRAFB

Wednesday’s lockdown for almost four and a half hours after the report of a “suspicious person” at Little Rock Air Force Base had most on edge and sparked questions from others.

The Security Forces law-enforcement desk was told the person tried to forcibly gain access to a base building. Base investigators later found that “no threat existed,” according to a news release.

The incident occurred during an emergency readiness exercise. The release reads, “The report was a case of mistaken identity associated with the heightened awareness of a readiness exercise.”

The Leader’s Christy Hendricks, who was on base during the lockdown, said, “There was a moment when the atmosphere in the room turned from normal to intense, when things went from exercise to real world. We didn’t know details, just that we were on lockdown.

“The sirens were sounding every 10 minutes or so, and all we could do was sit in a locked room and wait.”

She added, “The airmen did their jobs, and everything turned out to be OK. Base leadership made the right call to investigate. They made sure we were safe.”

The base was locked down from 11:45 a.m. until 4:10 p.m. while the report that was not part of the exercise was investigated.

“We take all reports seriously and investigate them thoroughly,” Col. Patrick Rhatigan, 19th Airlift Wing commander, said in the news release. “Due to this report, I implemented a lockdown and our highly-trained Security Forces Air-men responded to secure our airmen, their families and Air Force resources.”

Most likely in response to some local residents who asked what the base was “hiding” by not releasing more details and not releasing information sooner, the release reads, “For security purposes and to prevent future incidents, the base’s policy is to not release information concerning response tactics.

“To ensure due diligence of safety and security measures, and verify that no threats existed, law enforcement personnel conducted a thorough sweep of the 6,100-acre base.”

Rhatigan also said in the release, “We understand yesterday’s lockdown caused difficulties and inconveniences for our base guests. While we apologize for the unplanned disruption, I am pleased to report no injuries or damages occurred during (Wednesday’s) lockdown.”

TOP STORY >> Hall of Fame honors local hero

Retired Staff Sgt. Calvin D. (Cal) Rollins of Cabot and nine other honorees were inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame last week at Fort Benning, Ga.

The 67-year-old was inducted into the Hall of Fame for his service during the Vietnam War. Born in Pine Bluff and a graduate of Morrilton High School, he enlisted in the Army in June 1965. By June 1966, he was an Airborne Ranger and team leader assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.

He was assigned in 1968 to the Special Forces Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation group, where he headed special projects until he was wounded by mortar fire.

The Rangers were introduced and stood for the reading of their biographies before receiving their medallions.

According to the citation, “Ranger Rollins took part in Project Omega, Command and Control South Cross Border Operations. He also took part in Operations Shining Brass/Prairie in Laos, Daniel Boone in Cambodia, Muscle Shoals, Spear, Dawes, Buckner and March.

“In September 1968, he was wounded in action during operations in Laos and subsequently medically evacuated through Japan to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He was next transferred to Reynolds Army Hospital at Fort Sill. He was placed on the temporary disabled retired list in May 1969 and medically retired with 50 percent disability in May 1970.”

Rollins was the lowest-ranking inductee with the shortest span of service.

A news release said, “Rollins spoke briefly after his induction, describing the exemplary actions of fellow Rangers, how they surmounted seemingly impossible obstacles, and expressing their gratitude to their families and friends and the Lord above, who helped them along the way.”

Several of the honorees dedicated their awards to other Rangers who led the way and recounted tales of bravery and sacrifice.

“All were humble and touched by the recognition and stood tall and recited the Ranger creed with the current Ranger class in attendance, who filled the back of the auditorium, paying respect to the men who forged the path on which they all proudly march as Rangers,” according to the news release.

He is a recipient of the Bronze Star Service Medal, the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, two Purple Hearts, two Air Medals, the Army Commendation with Valor Device and the Good Conduct Medal.

He was also given the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Gallant-ry Cross with Palm, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with four bronze oak leaves, Republic of Vietnam Presi-dential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm, Combat Infantryman Badge, the Parachutists Badge and more.

The Ranger Hall of Fame began in 1992 and is made up of Rangers nominated by select Ranger units and associations representing each era of Ranger history.

The selection board scrutinizes each nominee to ensure that “only the most extraordinary contributions receive acknowledgement,” the news release said.

Rangers whose contributions embody the spirit of sacrifice, loyal service and character are inducted.

After his military service, Rollins worked in engineering and law enforcement, retiring in 1999 after being declared 100 percent disabled.

Rollins has served as secretary of the Echo 20th/Charlie Rangers Association and the Special Operations Association, and he still serves as webmaster for both organizations as well as for the Worldwide Army Rangers Association.

“He is working on plans for the opening of the Special Forces Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Museum, which he founded,” the release mentions.

He works with veterans in the post-traumatic stress disorder program at the Veterans Health Systems hospital in North Little Rock.

Another Arkansan, Brig. Gen. Herbert J. Lloyd of Hope, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame. Biographies and photos of Hall of Fame members are displayed on permanent plaques at Fort Benning.

The cast bronze medallions bear the image of an eagle in flight symbolizing strength and the warrior. The eagle carries an American flag, representing the Rangers’ commitment to their country, and arrows representing resolve and readiness to fight to defend the Constitution as he flies over the Ranger Memorial.

Rollins was also honored with 12 others in a special ceremony in 2013 as a Worldwide Army Ranger Man of the Year award recipient.

TOP STORY >> Traffic-box art starts dialogue

Leader staff writer

The painting of a traffic box at First and Martin streets has attracted more positive than negative attention if a closed Facebook group called “Jacksonville Ar News” is any indication.

Reactions of the group’s members came after a slew of coverage by local television stations that reported people were calling the work of art “too ethnic.”

At least one media outlet went as far as to repeat an assertion that the painting was reminiscent of the “ghetto.”

But Mayor Gary Fletcher said just one of the residents who called his office used the latter term, and that person was one of about six complainers. He added, “99 to 1 approve.”

Fletcher also said there are no plans to remove the painting from the box.

The mayor didn’t tell The Leader who the naysayers were, explaining that residents who call his office expect confidentiality.

A reposted link to one of television station’s stories garnered more than 40 responses from 15 people.

An overwhelming majority of another 40 comments posted in response to that station’s request for feedback were positive reactions to the painting.

Ron Newport, the former executive director of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, who is white, selected Theresa Cates’ painting of black ladies dancing on a piano in church and praising God.

All of the comments in the Jacksonville Ar News group supported the painting and expressed shock that anyone would call it “ghetto” or “too ethnic.”

Also, according to the 2010 census, Jacksonville is 32.7 percent black — more than double the state average of 15.4 percent.

Michael Wallace wrote, “I live on Martin St. I think it is a beautiful addition to my neighborhood! She can paint my mailbox if she would like!”

Debbie Sullivan Fulton wrote that she saw nothing wrong with it and that the artist could paint her mailbox too.

Colida Holder wrote that the painting was beautiful and that she loved it.

Mary Morgan Strickland wrote, “Folks, get a life. It is POSITIVE, REFRESHING, and EXPRESSIVE. Embrace the fact that it isn’t graffiti!”

Kay Phillips wrote, “It amazes me what people find to complain about! The painting is not my cup of tea but it doesn’t affect me. Let it go people and move on to important things!”

Julann Carney wrote, “I think it’s terribly sad that someone can’t understand or appreciate art. To throw the word ‘ghetto’ around is just plain ignorant. I, for one, appreciate it. We should embrace the diversity in this town.”

Laurie Cross Staver wrote, “This town needs a lot more paintings to brighten up a lot of the buildings. I would love to see one on the end of the B&M flea market building, or even the end of Kroger facing North First. Bright colors and good themes help revive people’s spirit, which is what this town needs.”

And Sandy Smith suggested painting murals on the other side depicting different races would solve the problem. But, she also wrote, “I enjoyed seeing it.”

Rebecca Sessions wrote, “The box looks better than it did gray. There are a few more that should have gotten painted. Jacksonville has people from many ethnicities, cultures, and/or races. It shouldn’t be a problem to show that.”

A poll question posted on the same group reads, “It’s sad that we (the people of Jacksonville) have to be on the news for negative crap. The box that was painted. Do you have a problem with this? Check yes or no. If you do please tell us why?”

Sixteen checked no, they didn’t have a problem with it. One person responded that the television coverage was ripped off from an Arkansas Times story. One person, who checked that he or she did have a problem with the painting, didn’t comment further.

Cates agreed to spend 12 hours in the sun putting the artwork that Newport selected on the traffic box. She donated the painting to the city.

Her paintings have been displayed at the Red Door Gallery on JFK Boulevard in North Little Rock for eight years. She has also done traffic boxes in the Argenta district and Park Hill neighborhood in North Little Rock.

But Cates faced criticism there with one of the traffic boxes at the busy JFK and I-40 exit intersection being painting over and replaced with the “Perfectly Park Hill” logo.

The artist told The Leader she felt good about her work because it serves a greater purpose. Cates explained, “Some underprivileged kids will never go to a gallery, a showing, a museum. So, outside, original art composed on a traffic box will give them the opportunity to experience and see something that a real artist created and touched. And it’s free.

“They may be walking to school, waiting for their school bus or on their way inside of a church, because there is a church across the street, or going to the grocery store with their parents. They get a chance to experience something that’s real.”

Cates relates to underprivileged kids because she “came from a battered home, so domestic violence was everywhere. We were really, really poor.”

She believes it’s important for kids to see art so “they can think outside of the box, so they can dream big, so that they can know that, you know, it could be them. It could happen to anybody. Everybody has a gift. Feel free to look at it and dream, expand upon your gift or dig for your gift.

“Through stressful times, you don’t have to drink…You don’t have to do anything that’s will hurt someone. You can dig from within. That gift was from within,” Cates said.

The artist also told The Leader before the television coverage, “It seems like there may be some controversy with the art (in Jacksonville), but I feel I’m paving the way for other artists to come out throughout the city.”

She also paints, with her pastor’s blessing, during services at Evangelistic Ministries in Jacksonville.

Cates recently participated in a Make-A-Wish Foundation event that allowed terminally ill children to paint on tiles that will be sold at a gala on Nov. 6 at the governor’s mansion.

The artist also supports Women and Children First, an organization that helps battered women and children escape from broken homes.

Cates donates art to several charities. She paints baseball home plates to raise money for the Thea Foundation, which provides scholarships to students who excel in fine arts.

The artist also explained the Jacksonville painting. She said, “Everybody has a different response, a different move, a different way of praising and worshipping God. And it just shows the different positions and movements. Some people are barely hanging on to pray and the keys, and some people are barely hanging on in life. But they’re hanging on. Some are really into it...Music bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the soul.”

The bright orange used in the painting is one of her trademarks, as are spiritual or vintage themes and blank faces.

Cates was asked to paint a second box but said it is “up in the air” whether she does that.

“I don’t want them to be vandalized. I don’t want to risk the chance of that. So I’m kind of iffy about whether I’ll do anything else,” the artist told The Leader.

About Cates’ traffic box painting, the mayor said, “Personally, I like it. Everyone in my office likes it.”

If the artist paints more traffic boxes, Fletcher wants them to emphasize positive themes related to Jacksonville — the fact that the Joint Education Center houses six college and universities, that the Boys and Girls Club provides a safe- haven for underprivileged kids to play and that the city has a world-class Museum of Military History.

But, he said, “Right now, I want this issue to die down. I want us to celebrate the arts in our community. I want us to promote the arts in our communities and (traffic boxes are) a good way to do it.”

TOP STORY >> Mayors ask better deal on jail costs

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola are the two holdouts among five cities pondering a new, five-year, interlocal agreement to help support the Pulaski County Detention Center.

Fletcher on Friday called for Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay to provide the leadership to redraw a fairer interlocal agreement since, he said, apparently County Judge Buddy Villines isn’t going to.

Villines has proposed a five-year agreement with a 5 percent increase in the amount assessed each city the first year, and annual increases tied to the consumer price index.

Jail and prison overcrowding and funding are important issues with lots of moving parts, particularly in Central Arkansas.

Pulaski County is required by law to house prisoners from municipalities within its borders, and Jacksonville, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood and Maumelle agreed in 2004 to support the $26 million a year jail to the collective tune of about $3 million a year. The state and federal government pay about $2 million a year for the inmates they have in the county lockup.

Tuesday night, the Pulaski County Quorum Court approved unanimously a new per diem fee schedule that will kick in for any of the five that don’t ratify a new agreement. The per diem is a more expensive option, with the cities charged $248 for the first day one of their prisoners is booked into the jail and $45 a day after that. Stodola objects to the big first-day fee, calling it “egregious.”

Fletcher objects to Jacksonville’s share in the proposed agreement, which would be $68,000 more a year than Sherwood pays, and Sherwood has a bigger population.

Since the 2004 interlocal agreement, Jacksonville’s population has declined by about 780 people, while Sherwood’s has grown by more than 10,000, Fletcher said.

Sherwood had about 50 percent more inmates in the county jail last year than Jacksonville did, according to numbers Fletcher provided.

“I understand the mayor’s point,” Villines said, “but if they don’t participate, they’ll come under the per-diem plan.”

That could increase Jacksonville’s financial liability from $201,000 a year, under the proposed interlocal agreement, to nearly $500,000.

“The problem he has is with the other cities, not with the county,” the judge said. “I can’t tell the other cities to pay more so he can pay less.”

Fletcher addressed the justices of the peace at the Tuesday night meeting, saying there were all kinds of disparities.

“I’ll pay my fair share, but the key word is fair,” Fletcher said.

He said he won’t bring the interlocal agreement to the Jacksonville City Council until he has a proposal he can support.

He said the biggest problem is the number of state inmates taking up beds in the county jail. And the state pays the county only $24 a day per inmate, while the cost of housing an inmate is $44.

Fletcher said he hopes the General Assembly will agree to pay its fair share when it convenes in January, but Villines said that jail and prison overcrowding is perceived elsewhere as a central Arkansas problem.

Legislators from other areas of the state are unlikely to be eager to pay more, he said.

In the three-day special session this summer, the General Assembly did appropriate about $6.2 million to open another 600 prison beds around the state. Pulaski County’s work-release center, also known as the Wrightsville Satellite Center, just reopened and will hold 250 inmates.

Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Lt. Carl Minden said the county would benefit by half that number.

The state’s inmates aren’t being transferred directly from the Pulaski County jail, but rather the state is moving inmates near their release dates from other prisons to that unit, opening up beds in those prisons.

The county has leased that facility to the Correction Department for $1 a year, according to Minden.

The Pulaski County Detention Center, which twice this year stopped taking any but the most violent inmates, is open now and was down to a count of 1,157 Friday morning, he said. Its capacity, which it sometimes exceeds, is 1,210.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TOP STORY >> 60 years for child porn

A Lonoke County man arrested last year by agents with Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s Cyber Crimes Unit has been sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Ryan David Oyen, 30, of Cabot pleaded guilty on Monday to 20 counts of distributing, possessing or viewing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child. Lonoke County Circuit Court Judge Sandy Huckabee handed down the 60-year sentence, with an additional 20-year suspended sentence.

Oyen, a former sergeant who was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, was being held in the Lonoke County Detention Center awaiting transfer to the Arkansas Department of Correction. Oyen will be required to register as a sex offender.

“Arkansas children and families are safer when individuals who exploit our childen are held accountable for their crimes,” McDaniel said.

“This man had more than 16,000 images of child pornography on his computer. I am glad he will be unable to continue preying upon our most vulnerable citizens,” McDaniel said.

Oyen was arrested last July after agents with the Cyber Crimes Unit carried out a search warrant at 23 Haywood, his Cabot residence.

Special Agent Mike Lett had begun investigating Oyen a month earlier after suspecting that child pornography was at his home.

The Cabot Police Department and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations assisted state officials in the investigation and arrest of Oyen.

Assistant Attorney General Will Jones was appointed as special prosecutor in the case by 23rd Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham.

TOP STORY >> Her niece one plane ahead of fatal flight

Leader Editor

Hedy Wuelling, who runs the Jacksonville Animal Shelter, follows the news of the downed Malaysian airliner on Dutch websites because she’s from Holland.

She’s appalled that two-thirds of the 298 victims were from her native country and it’s taken almost a week for the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine to release the bodies. The rebels are suspected of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air missile that Russia probably gave them in their fight with the Ukrainian government.

Wuelling was telling a visitor to the shelter Monday that her niece had flown back to Holland on Malaysian Airlines just a few days before Flight 17 was shot down last Thursday.

“She came back on Flight 16,” Wuelling said, speaking with a Dutch accent.

Flight 17 was carrying 193 Dutch passengers. The rest were Malaysians, including the crew, as well as Australians, Indonesians, Britons, Belgians, Germans, Filipinos, a Canadian and a New Zealander.

Wuelling is upset about the way the Ukrainian rebels have collected bodies onto refrigerated trains, stolen the victims’ wallets and credit cards and refused to allow investigators to enter the crash scene until early this week.

“It’s disgusting how they’re holding up personal belongings like teddy bears as if they were trophies,” she said. “No respect. They’ve got their own war, but they should respect other people.

“If they’re innocent, they should let other people in to investigate,” she added.

Wuelling, who moved to Jacksonville 11 years ago, said Dutch people like to travel to Malaysia because of its resorts and its natural beauty. Many of the victims were vacationers. Others were prominent AIDS researchers flying to a conference.

The Ukrainian rebels stalled for almost a week, hiding pieces of the Russian missile they used to shoot down the plane and stealing valuables from the passengers, who lay in a wheat field for days in the oppressive heat while their bodies decomposed.

Some were thrown on stretchers like cordwood reminiscent of previous massacres in the region. The historian Timothy Snyder, in his book “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” recounts the atrocities that took place there before and during the Second World War.

Ukraine is where the Nazis and Soviets took turns killing millions of their victims, depending on who was in control of the area. Their descendants and collaborators are still committing atrocities there almost 70 years later.

Alexander Borodai, the rat-faced commander of the rebel forces, looks like someone who comes from a long line of thugs. His grandfather could have been a Nazi collaborator, and his father a communist enforcer.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian strongman who supplied the rebels with the missile, must be proud of his Ukrainian stooge.

Putin, a former KGB official who continues to arm the separatists, has finally given into international pressure and ordered the rebels to release the plane’s black box and allow foreign monitors into the area.

The Dutch are in mourning. They want the culprits punished.

The Dutch military is sending its C-130s to Ukraine to pick up the victims and fly them home for identification.

Wuelling can see the C-130s from her home on Hwy. 107 near Little Rock Air Force Base. That’s where all C-130 crews do their training, including foreign allies like the Dutch.

She brought her parents here from Holland a few years ago. They’re a long way from home, but, when they see the C-130s flying overhead, they feel a little closer to the victims who perished.

TOP STORY >> Surprising results in math test

Leader staff writer

Lonoke Middle School and Ahlf Junior High in Searcy are two of the best schools in the state based on the recently released Algebra I end-of-course test scores.

The Algebra I test is a high-stakes, state-required exam. It is high stakes because most students who score below basic on the exam will have to repeat the course regardless of their report-card grade.

But students at Beebe Junior High don’t have to worry. They all scored proficient or advanced on the test.

The students at Lonoke and in Searcy did even better as all the students who took the test scored advanced. Lonoke and Searcy are two of just five schools in state that had all of their students score advanced.

Test scores on the Algebra I exam fall into one of four categories: Advanced, proficient, basic or below basic.

On the troubling end of the math spectrum is Jacksonville High School, where only four out of 10 passed the test and 18 percent scored below basic.

The Algebra I exam is one of three end-of-course tests required by the state. The other two are biology and geometry. Neither of them are high stakes, so a poor score doesn’t mean repeating the course.

In geometry, all the students taking the test at Cabot Junior High North and South scored proficient or better. Students at North Pulaski and the Lighthouse College Prep Academy were at the bottom of area schools, scoring 60 and 61 percent respectively.

In biology, Searcy had 65 percent of its students at proficient or advanced, while Jacksonville had just 18 percent make the cut.

Here is a closer look at area school results:


All students at Beebe Junior High School who took the Algebra I end-of-course exam scored either proficient or advanced. At the high school, 77 percent scored proficient or better and 5 percent scored below basic. Most of the 5 percent will have to repeat the course.

In Searcy, not only did all the Ahlf Junior High students taking the test pass, they all scored advanced. At the high school, 82 percent were proficient or advanced with 2 percent scoring below basic.

Lonoke Middle School also had 100 percent of their students taking the test score advanced. At the high school, 89 percent were proficient or advanced while 4 percent were below basic.

England High School had 48 percent score proficient or advanced and 13 percent scored below basic.

Students at Cabot Junior High South and Cabot Junior High North tied with 84 percent scoring proficient or advanced. Both had just 1 percent score below basic. At Cabot’s Academic Center for Excellence, 50 percent were proficient, none were advanced and 19 percent were below basic.

Students taking the high-stakes test at Jacksonville Middle School were 80 percent proficient or advanced and 2 percent scored below basic. At the high school, just 39 percent were proficient or advanced and 18 percent were below basic.

Sylvan Hills Middle School had 92 percent score proficient or advance, but, at the high school, is was 67 percent with 9 percent scoring below basic.

North Pulaski High had 54 percent score proficient or better, and 16 percent fell below basic.

Of the students taking the test at Lisa Academy North, 95 were proficient or advanced and none were below basic.

The test was given at three of the Jacksonville Lighthouse campuses. At the middle school, 73 percent were proficient or advanced with none below basic. At the upper academy, 81 percent made the cut and 3 percent were below basic. But, at the college prep campus, just 52 percent scored proficient or advanced while 17 percent were below basic.


Of the Beebe High School students who took the test, 77 percent scored proficient or better.

At Searcy, 93 percent of the students who took the test scored proficient or advanced and none were below basic.

At Lonoke High School, 68 percent were proficient or better. England High School had 63 percent make the cut and Carlisle had 74 percent of its students taking the test score proficient or better.

All students taking the test at Cabot Junior High North and Cabot Junior High South scored proficient or advanced. At the high school, it dropped to 81 percent proficient or better.

Jacksonville High School had 65 percent score proficient or better, while Sylvan Hills was at 66 percent and North Pulaski came in at 60 percent proficient or better.

Nearly all — 95 percent — of the students taking the test at Lisa Academy Middle scored proficient or advanced, but that fell to 69 percent at its high school.

Of the students taking the test at Jacksonville’s Lighthouse College Prep Academy, 61 percent scored proficient or advanced.


At Beebe High School, 54 percent of the students taking the end-of-course biology test scored proficient or advanced.

Among Searcy students taking the test, 65 percent scored proficient or better.

Lonoke had more at the basic level than the proficient and above levels. Of those taking the test, 43 percent were proficient or better while 45 percent were basic.

England had none scoring advanced, 25 percent at the proficient level, 48 percent basic and 27 percent were below basic.

At Carlisle High School, 54 percent scored proficient or better.

Cabot High School students were 61 percent proficient or advanced. But just 31 percent made the cut at the Academic Center for Excellence.

Of those taking the test at Jacksonville High School, 18 percent scored proficient or advanced, 43 percent basic and 39 percent below basic. Sylvan Hills didn’t do much better. It had 29 percent at proficient or better, 44 percent basic and 26 percent below basic.

North Pulaski High School students taking the test were 36 percent proficient or better, 44 percent basic and 20 percent below basic.

None of the students taking the test at Lisa Academy North scored proficient or advanced while 63 percent were basic and 38 percent were below basic.

Students at the Lighthouse College Prep Academy were 28 percent proficient, 52 percent basic and 20 percent below basic.

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series taking an in-depth look at the results of this year’s state-mandated testing of elementary, middle school and high school students.

SPORT STORY >> Gwatney stays alive with shutout win over Conway

Leader sports editor

CONWAY – The Gwatney Chevrolet Senior American Legion team got its second win of the Zone 1 tournament Monday at Hendrix College in Conway, beating the Conway Cougars 9-0 and advancing to the semifinals. It was Jacksonville’s first win on the field.

The Chevy Boys won their first-round game by forfeit when Russellville did not have the required minimum of 12 players show up for their scheduled 9:30 a.m. game on Saturday.

After a 4-1 loss to Cabot on Sunday, Jacksonville blew open a 1-0 game in the seventh inning by posting eight more runs.

It seemed to be a matter of time before Jacksonville would have such an inning. Gwatney pitcher Derek St. Clair kept Conway off balance the entire game, while Jacksonville was on the brink of several big innings before the seventh, but were not able to capitalize on those opportunities.

The Chevy Boys loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first inning and failed to score. Four of their five batters reached base in the second inning but only one run scored. That inning included one strikeout, one runner picked off at first and another thrown out at home trying to score from second base.

In the third inning, the first two runners reached base and were in scoring position with one out. There was a fruitless triple to the wall in left-center field by Greg Jones in the fifth. Jacksonville went three up, three down in the sixth before finally blowing it open in the seventh.

It started with the always-ominous leadoff walk of the nine-hole hitter. D.J. Scott drew that walk and reached second on a base hit to right field by Courtland McDonald. Ryan Mallison then put down a sacrifice bunt, but everyone was safe when the first baseman dropped the throw.

Blake Perry hit a fly ball to right field deep enough for Scott to score from third. Jones then singled to center field to drive in the remaining two base runners. St. Clair then singled to left. He was picked off by Conway pitcher Shawn Schichtl, but was safe at second on another dropped ball. James Tucker then bunted down the third baseline, and again everyone was left safe on an errant throw that also allowed Jones to score.

Laderrious Perry then drew a walk to load the bases again.

Brandon Hickingbotham struck out swinging at a wild pitch that scored St. Clair. Scott drew another walk in his second at-bat of the inning to again load the bases. McDonald hit a hard grounder to third base where a half-hearted effort to field the ball was unsuccessful, allowing two more runs to score and leaving Scott and McDonald safe in scoring position. Mallison walked to load the bases again and Blake Perry was hit by a pitch to drive in the final run of the game.

Jacksonville got just six base hits with Jones’ two leading the way. The Chevy Boys were helped by seven walks, six Conway errors and three hit batters.

Conway got seven base hits, six off of St. Clair in eight innings of work. He also struck out six and walked three. Hickingbotham pitched the ninth inning. He gave up a leadoff single and an E6 to put two runners on with no outs, but got two groundouts and finished it off with a strikeout to preserve the shutout.

Jacksonville faced Fort Smith-Kerwins at 7 p.m. Tuesday after deadlines. Kerwins entered that game 3-0 in the tournament but it’s an elimination game for Jacksonville. A win means a date with the winner of Cabot-North Little Rock on Wednesday. Look for details of those games and the rest of the tournament in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot wins two at Zone tourney

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – The Cabot-Centennial Bank Senior American Legion team fell to 2-1 in the Arkansas American Legion Senior Zone Tournament after losing to Fort Smith by the final score of 3-2 Monday at the Hendrix College baseball field.

Both teams were 2-0 heading into Monday’s matchup. Cabot beat Bentonville 10-0 in seven innings on Saturday while Fort Smith beat Conway in the nightcap Saturday by the final score of 7-6.

On Sunday, each team advanced in the winners’ bracket yet again as Cabot handed Jacksonville a 4-1 loss, while Fort Smith won another close game; this one a 5-4 triumph over North Little Rock.

Cabot can still win the double-elimination tourney if it wins out, but for Fort Smith, the win over Cabot guaranteed it a spot in the state tournament that starts Saturday at Bryant.

Cabot scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning Monday. Shortstop and leadoff hitter Conner Vocque started the inning with a double to left field, and advanced to third base two batters later on an infield single by teammate Ryan Logan.

With runners at the corners, Fort Smith pitcher Jorden Lawrence tried several times to pick off Logan at first base as he anticipated Logan trying to steal second, but on Lawrence’s final pickoff attempt, Vocque broke for home plate and was able to slide under catcher Jordan Miller’s tag on the throw from first to home, making it 1-0 Cabot.

The score remained 1-0 until the top of the fifth when Fort Smith scored two runs to take the lead. Lawrence singled down the third baseline to lead off the inning, and Miller got on base after being hit by a pitch.

Brennan Dooly tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt the next at-bat, but got the bat too far underneath the ball and popped it up in the air where it was easily caught for the first out of the inning. That brought leadoff hitter Hunter Wilson to the plate, and he reached base safely on a 5-4 fielder’s choice.

With two outs and a 3-1 count, two-hole hitter Drew Person hit a clutch stand-up double down the right-field line to send both Lawrence and Wilson across the plate and give the Kerwins Sportsmen team its first lead at 2-1.

Fort Smith added its third and final run in the top of the eighth. Wilson started things off with a single to the gap in right field, and Person put him in scoring position with a sac bunt.

Wilson stole third base with three-hole hitter Michael Rhea at the plate, and scored the next at-bat on a sac fly to right field by Houston Kennedy, which put Fort Smith on top 3-1. Cabot added its final run in the bottom part of the inning.

Gavin Tillery singled to get on base in the bottom of the eighth. Hayden Vinson came in as Tillery’s courtesy runner, and he stole second base to get in scoring position.

Vinson later stole third base, and was able to score on the same play as Miller made a low throw to third that ended up in shallow left field. Cabot made a serious threat to tie it up in the ninth, but had some bad luck on its side.

Cleanup hitter Landon James singled to right center to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and advanced to second on a groundout to first by Grayson Cole. That brought catcher Tristan Bulice to the plate, and Bulice hit a hard line drive to left field.

James rounded third for what would’ve been a close play at the plate, but tripped up and fell halfway home, and was therefore tagged out on the play. Cabot wasn’t able to recover after that, and Fort Smith was able to escape with the hard-fought win.

Lawrence got the win on the mound. He went the distance and finished the complete game with nine strikeouts and two walks, but gave up eight Cabot hits. Although Lawrence had an overall solid game on the hill, Cabot coach Chris Gross thought his team could’ve and should’ve hit the ball better than it did against him.

“We shut it down,” said Gross. “For seven innings straight we quit swinging the bat and acted like we didn’t want to be here. Grayson Cole made a play in right (field) and all of a sudden everybody’s motivated, and we start hitting the ball.

“We outhit them. If we would’ve showed up to play we would’ve won that game. (Fort Smith) is a really good ball team. They all showed up. They wanted to play, we didn’t. I think we have enough talent and enough pitching to go a long way, but we’ll see if they show up (Tuesday). I know they want to play these guys again Wednesday, so maybe that’s what we needed.”

Cabot outhit Fort Smith 8-5 and Centennial Bank had no errors to Fort Smith’s one error.

Tillery and James led Cabot offensively with two hits each, while teammates Vocque, Logan, Bulice and Kason Kimbrell had one hit apiece.

Lawrence was the only player for Fort Smith with multiple hits. He was 2 for 4.

Cabot played North Little Rock last night after deadlines. Those two teams, along with Jacksonville and Fort Smith, were the last four teams left in the tournament as of Tuesday. Look for details of the Cabot/NLR game and the rest of the tournament in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> JHS wide receiver’s decline is shocking

Leader sports editor

What a monumental difference a year can make in the life of a young person, especially those who are graduating high school and embarking on life without the structure, rules, authority and accountability they’ve lived with.

That difference can be positive or negative, and the negative can be illustrated no better than the recent tragedy involving former Jacksonville standout wide receiver Robert Harris, whose rapid decline that began in earnest last September at the start of his senior year, has culminated in him now sitting in jail charged with capital murder. He’s being held without bail after his arraignment on Tuesday.

Harris, still only 17, was arrested early Monday morning as the prime suspect in the shooting death of 29-year-old Michael Cook in North Little Rock.

Harris allegedly robbed Cook at gunpoint in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and then shot him near Whipporwhil Lane and Campbell Road. Cook, a father of two young boys, was found alive, but died later at the hospital. Harris was arrested around 6 a.m. Monday after two witnesses identified him as the shooter.

About this time last year, Harris was volunteering as an instructor and helper at the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club’s annual Fun Day, which is sponsored by the Jacksonville Police Department. Alongside JPD officers, Harris was teaching kids how to play kickball and volunteering to be plunged into the cold water of a dunking booth, all for the entertainment of Jacksonville’s little ones.

He was also interviewed that day for The Leader’s annual football tab for the remarkable comeback he made from a serious injury suffered during the Red-White game before his junior year.

The injury was gruesome. Harris’ skin appeared to be the only thing keeping his right foot attached to his leg, as it protruded in a grotesque angle away from his body and dangled loosely as paramedics lifted him onto the stretcher.

It cost him his junior season, but he worked hard to get ready for his senior year, with teammates helping him get to practice and physical therapy sessions. Last summer, Harris dazzled as a wide receiver in multiple 7-on-7 camps, including a remarkable performance in the Shootout of the South, where he caught 19 touchdown passes and led the Red Devils to a fifth-place finish in the 22-team tournament that included teams from four states.

That performance launched Harris into prospect status among college coaches, but it didn’t carry over into tackle football. Once school started, something changed.

At the time, coaches, fans and media scratched their heads wondering why the talented receiver wasn’t producing like he did in the summer. He dropped passes frequently, got into scuffles on the field and played with an overall lack of focus.

Bewildered observers only needed to let the year play out. Harris was no longer focusing on football or school like he used to. The talented young man, who was always very polite and respectful in the presence of adults, was becoming a different person among his peers.

He was involved in a fracas with Little Rock McClellan after their football game last season, and really began to show his downward direction during basketball season. He didn’t play basketball, but loved being a part of the rowdy JHS student section. Only Harris went further than the rest.

The week of the rivalry game against North Pulaski, Harris took to twitter to get under the skin of one NP player who used to play for Jacksonville.

That nearly resulted in a fight after Jacksonville’s win. Harris finally did get in a fight after Jacksonville’s away game at Sylvan Hills, and that landed him his first arrest for battery.

It also ended his schooling, as he was expelled from JHS only two months from graduation.

It apparently got worse from there. Witnesses say on Saturday evening, Harris and three friends were sitting in a car when one of them, Cook, got out and walked away.

Harris followed him around a corner where he stopped Cook at gunpoint. Cook reportedly began to empty his pockets and throw the contents on the ground. Harris then, according to one witness, fired several shots and fled.

The outcry on social media is varied. The more outrageous and shortsighted involves anger at the snitches who told on Harris.

Those people show a callous and despicable lack of regard for the lost life and the people who are mourning over it.

Some of his coaches, teachers and others who know Harris are distraught over the extreme and rapid nature of his decline.

One former coach even lamented that “this is not who he really is.” It’s an understandable sentiment. It didn’t seem like that’s who Harris was to the reporter who sat down with him among the raucous and happy little kids at the Boys and Girls Club last July.

That coach’s lament has been shared by many people, including by this reporter.

Often times those we see going down a destructive path turn things around and become the good person we knew was underneath the horrible decisions they were making. But sometimes people just aren’t who we thought they were.