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Officials say nothing toxic was released into the community following multiple explosions and a fire at Safeco in Gray last Monday night, but the fire has had a significant impact on the West Knox Fire Department, which is scrambling to replace 12 sets of turnout gear and nine sections of hose.
Chief Daryl Baker said in the course of fighting the fire at the tire recycling center on Ky. 233, turnout gear and nine sections of hose became soaked in oil and diesel fuel.
“We tried to wash them (the gear and hoses) but it won’t come out,” Baker said, noting the cost of replacing the gear and hoses is estimated at $25,000 to $30,000.
The bill Safeco will receive will include the cost to replace the damaged gear and hoses.
“We have 38 volunteers and 12 of them don’t have gear,” Baker said.
After speaking with officials at neighboring Woodbine and Keavy volunteer fire departments, Baker said those departments have agreed to loan West Knox some of the extra gear they have on hand. Baker estimated that could temporarily replace as many as eight sets of gear.
In addition, Baker said he and some of the other firefighters can leave their gear at the station with the trucks for use by the responding firefighters.
However, turnout gear is not one-size-fits-all and a new set takes up to two months to come in after it is ordered.
“It still depends on the size of the gear and the firefighters who need it,” Baker said.
Baker said a new set of turnout gear has a 10-year lifespan, after which it must be replaced.
The department has a rotation process ongoing whereby three sets of gear are replaced, annually.
Baker said members of the community are more than welcome to contribute toward the purchase of the new gear, noting any donations are very much appreciated.
Anyone that like to help may contact the fire department at 528-1700 or come by station one next to the old Lynn Camp School after 6 p.m. on Monday.
“There is no option not to replace it,” Baker said. “We have got to come up with the money.”
Firefighters were called to the scene about 9:20 p.m. following reports of multiple explosions in the area.
Baker said the explosions were propane tanks inside the plant where tires are shredded and oil is extracted from the remains.
Knox County Emergency Management Director Mike Mitchell said there was approximately 300 to 350 gallons of oil at the plant when the explosion occurred.
Firefighters were on scene until after midnight battling the blaze.
No one was injured in the explosion or the fire.
Getting a promotion: Laurel County native Danny Beckner (left) was promoted to Vice President and Plant Manager of J. Frank Publishing, Inc. recently. Company president Jay Nolan, (right) announced the promotion on behalf of the company’s owners and board of directors on Wednesday, January 9th. Beckner began working an entry-level position with the company over eighteen years ago. Nolan noted it was “Danny’s consistent dedication, commitment to excellence, hard work, and genuine concern for both our customers and employees,” that made him the clear choice for this promotion. J. Frank Publishing is the company that prints the News Journal. Beckner will now have management responsibilities for all departments within the plant.
Residents in Eastern Whitley County can rest a little easier tonight knowing that the men believed to be responsible for a previously unsolved 2017 triple homicide have now been apprehended.
The last of three Indianapolis men, who Williamsburg police believe was involved in the Deep Branch Road killings, has been apprehended thanks to the efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies.
Williamsburg police have charged Jeremy Scott Hatfield, 34, Darnell L. Chivers, 38, and Anthony L. Hester, 33, with three counts of murder, first-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence, according to Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird.
“I can confidently say the motive was definitely drug related. Without getting into details of the case, there was some revenge that played out in this thing,” Bird said.
Because the case involves the killing of multiple people and because of the first-degree burglary charge, all three men could possibly face the death penalty if convicted.
Robert Mack Kennedy III, who had just turned 16 years old; his mother, Emogene Ormae Gardner Bittner, 36; and her husband and Kennedy’s stepfather, Christopher Michael Bittner, 24, were all found dead on Sept. 13, 2017, at a 1602 Deep Branch Road residence. All three died from strangulation.
Shortly before 5 p.m. that day, Kathy Faulkner, Emogene’s mother, called 911 reporting that she had found her daughter dead at the residence.
Faulkner owned the residence but her daughter, grandson and son-in-law had been staying there while she was away from home.
Kathy Faulkner found Emogene with a bag over her head inside the house. The other two victims were found outside the house.
“It looks like they put a bag over her head. Oh, my God!” Kathy Faulkner told a dispatcher during a 911 call. “I have been having some problems out of some guys in Indiana, but I think that they put them in jail or something. I don’t know.”
Bird said that his department began investigating the case in July 2018 after a member of the victim’s family approached Mayor Roddy Harrison asking that Williamsburg police get involved in the investigation.
At that point, Bird and Detective Bobby Freeman started looking into the case, and over the course of about six months they developed three suspects.
“We made tremendous progress in that six-month time period. We developed three strong suspects,” Bird said.
Bird said he also enlisted the assistance of ATF Special Agent Todd Tremaine because of the location of the suspects, who were all out of state, and because the case somewhat involved firearms coming across state lines.
“Todd Tremaine has been instrumental in this case,” Bird said.
Williamsburg police then met with Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling, who reviewed the evidence police had and agreed law enforcement had enough evidence to obtain arrest warrants for the three men.
Identifying third suspect
One of the delays in making arrests in the case was that police hadn’t been able to identify and locate the third suspect in the case.
Initially, police only had the nickname of “Tony G” for the third individual, who last week they identified as Hester.
Hester was apprehended by an Indianapolis Metro Swat Team around midnight Thursday in an apartment in Indianapolis, and was arrested without incident.
He is currently lodged in the Marion County Detention Center on the Whitley County murder charges, and is awaiting extradition to Kentucky.
Chivers is currently incarcerated in the Hamilton County Detention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was already there on unrelated charges when Williamsburg police obtained their arrest warrant.
“There have been holders placed on him, so he will be coming to Kentucky soon. He will probably be in federal custody first,” Bird said.
Bird said that Tremaine recently charged Chivers with a federal firearms charge.
In December, Williamsburg police obtained an arrest warrant for Hatfield on a charge of possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and receiving stolen property (firearm) in connection with an August 2017 incident in Whitley County.
Hatfield was arrested in Indiana just before Christmas, and shortly after Christmas he waived extradition and was transferred to Whitley County.
Williamsburg police served Hatfield with the arrest warrant about 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 28, 2018, at the Whitley County Detention Center.
According to the warrant, on Aug. 17, 2017, Hatfield allegedly possessed the stolen handgun, which was reported stolen during a residential burglary on June 4, 2014, in Indianapolis.
Williamsburg police recovered the weapon in Williamsburg on Aug. 13, 2018, and took it into evidence.
Hatfield was initially incarcerated in lieu of a $7,500 cash bond, but that was increased to a $50,000 cash bond during his Jan. 2 arraignment in Whitley District Court. During a Jan. 7 court appearance, Hatfield waived his right to a preliminary hearing in the case.
“The handgun charge was a key factor in leading to getting enough evidence to arrest these three people,” Bird added.
August 2017 incident
Bird said there was a disturbance in August 2017 at the residence where the killings took place, which occurred about one month before the killings and involved all three of the suspects.
Hatfield and Hester ran off before a Whitley County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at the residence, and that sheriff’s deputies didn’t even know they were there. Deputies did make contact with Chivers at the time though, Bird said.
The disturbance involved a dispute over ownership of a pick-up truck, and the sheriff’s department separated Chivers from the residence.
“There was an altercation, but more details from that I can’t go into,” Bird said.
Police knew Chivers identity early in the case because the sheriff’s department had made contact with him during the August 2017 incident, but Bird said authorities didn’t know the identity of the other two suspects until later in the case.
“We slowly learned that Hatfield was there in August (2017). We knew this other individual was, but we didn’t have a name. This is where the ATF was instrumental. Their Intel analysts and the resources that they have, it was amazing to watch these guys do what they do and come up with information on this individual. Through that we were able to locate the third suspect (Hester),” Bird said.
All three suspects are previously convicted felons, and Bird anticipates additional charges being added when the case goes before the Whitley County Grand Jury, such as persistent felony offender charges against each defendant, which would potentially enhance any penalties that the three men might face.
Bird said that police believe Hester has gang ties, but he couldn’t say the killings were directly related to gang activity.
Authorities have talked to all three suspects, but Bird said he couldn’t elaborate on what they said.
Help from other agencies
“There are some people that I really want to thank in this case,” Bird said.
He noted that recently elected Whitley County Sheriff Todd Shelley has been very cooperative with the investigation and was glad to share what evidence and information his deputies had developed while investigating the case.
“Without his cooperation on what they already had in their initial investigation it would have made it much harder for us. Todd Shelley cooperated fully with us. He has been great so far to work with,” Bird said.
Because the prime suspects were out of state, Bird said that he and Freeman knew they would have to enlist help from an outside agency, and asked for Tremaine’s assistance on Dec. 31.
“I can’t say enough about how instrumental Todd Tremaine has been in this case,” Bird said. “These guys from the ATF have worked non-stop. Not just the ATF here, but the ATF in Cincinnati, Ohio, and especially the ATF out of Indianapolis.”
The Kentucky State Police, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department in Ohio, the U.S. Marshal’s Service in Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis Metro Swat Team have also played key roles in the investigation, Bird added.
The swat team worked almost 24 hours non-stop in their efforts to track down and apprehend Hester.
“Everybody working together and cooperating, this thing is starting to come together,” Bird said.
A search is currently ongoing for the next head coach of the Corbin Lady Hounds volleyball program after their coach for the past three seasons, Bryan Johnson, has decided to step away. (more…)
Know of a teacher that goes above and beyond in the classroom? Now is your chance to nominate that teacher for the 2020 Kentucky Teacher Awards.
The Kentucky Department of Education and Valvoline Inc. are accepting nominations for the 2029 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.
Any full-time public school teacher in Kentucky with at least three years of experience is eligible.
“Teachers may be nominated by students, parents, teaching peers, principals, superintendents, or anyone from the community who has an interest in honoring an outstanding educator,” KDE officials stated in a press release announcing the opening of the nomination window.
Nominations may be submitted through Feb. 15 online at kentuckytoy.com.
Nominated teachers will be notified of their nomination.
Each nominee will then be required to complete a formal application.
Judging will take place in March by a blue ribbon panel of education professional from across the state.
Up to 24 of the nominees will be awarded the Valvoline Teacher Achievement Award.
From that list, nine semifinalists will be chosen.
The top three candidates will undergo personal interviews.
The Kentucky Teacher of the Year will be announced in Frankfort in April.
Teacher Achievement Award winners will receive a cash gift of $500. The Teacher of the Year will receive a $10,000 cash prize, while the other two finalists will each receive a $3,000 cash gift.
“The Kentucky Teacher of the Year will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition,” KDE officials stated.
It’s been a big week for student-athletes at Corbin High School. (more…)
Discussion about sealed envelopes being placed in the book with official minutes from the University of the Cumberlands board of trustees meetings, and discussion about “closed minutes” from a 2005 board of trustees meeting, were two of the primary topics of discussion Wednesday afternoon during a federal court trial involving the school and a former president.
Dr. James Taylor and his wife, Diana Taylor, filed suit in U.S. District Court in London against the university in 2017 claiming that it reneged on an agreement to pay Dr. Taylor his full salary and benefits during his retirement. At issue is nearly $400,000 in salary and benefits Dr. Taylor was receiving at the time of his retirement in 2014, and that he wants to continue to receive now.
One of the issues at the heart of the lawsuit is a purported contract between the couple and the school.
The seven-page document was reportedly signed by the Dr. and Mrs. Taylor and Jim Oaks, who was chairperson of the board of trustees for the university, and dated April 19, 2012.
University officials have strongly disputed the lawsuit and the allegations in it claiming that the university hadn’t even seen the “agreement” or disputed contract until it “curiously” showed up on the desk of current President Larry Cockrum around July 1, 2015, without any indication who left it there.
Sue Wake, a former vice-president of institutional advancement and special assistant to the president who retired after 35 years at the University of the Cumberlands, spent about three hours on the witness stand Wednesday afternoon during the third day of the trial.
Wake testified that there was probably no one at the school, who worked more closely with Dr. Taylor over the years than herself, and that he never lied to her and she doesn’t believe he would lie about this.
“He is a man of integrity,” Wake testified.
One of Wake’s duties at the school was keeping minutes for the board of trustees meetings, and then preparing the minutes for the board. The board of trustees included official trustees, who were voting members, in addition to some honorary trustees.
When the board of trustees went into executive session, which included only official voting trustees, Wake left the room along with the honorary trustees and Dr. Taylor, she testified.
Wake said she gave her notepad to the board secretary or one of the other board members to take notes during the executive session.
She then prepared the minutes for the executive session part of the meeting based on those board member notes, and information verbally communicated to her by the person taking the notes.
Minutes from the executive session of the Oct. 20, 2005 board meeting reflect that concerns about Dr. Taylor’s health were noted during an executive session. Oaks noted that the board needed to give thought about Taylor’s retirement, and finding a potential replacement, which could work alongside Taylor until then.
Testimony revealed that there appeared to be handwriting from two different people on handwritten notes from the executive session of that meeting.
Wake said she didn’t recall, whose handwriting it was.
The notes indicated that there was discussion of Taylor continuing to work for the university during his retirement and a retirement salary for him.
Wake said that she had not seen any “closed minutes” from the Oct. 21, 2005, board meeting until Barbara Edelman, an attorney for the university, interviewed her in 2016 after the lawsuit was filed.
Wake said that she did not type those “closed minutes,” the “closed minutes” weren’t part of the official minutes, and that she had not been asked to incorporate those minutes into the official minutes from the meeting.
Oaks claimed to have taken the notes from a second executive session, Edelman told Wake, who was asked if she could recall the board ever going back into executive session after it adjourned.
Wake said she could recall it twice, but didn’t remember when or for what reason. Once a couple of board members stepped out of the room, and then everyone was called back inside the room.
The second time, several board members had already come out for lunch, and then were called back into the room.
Wake said she couldn’t think of a reason why a second person would have taken the notes during the executive session.
Wake testified that she never mailed out any “closed minutes” to board members.
Wake testified that board trustee Lonnie Walden provided her with the notes and a verbal report from the April 19, 2012, executive session at the board meeting, which is what she used to prepare the minutes of the executive session.
The minutes from that executive session differ somewhat from the notes. The notes indicated that a proposal was discussed regarding Dr. Taylor’s possible retirement, but Wake said she changed the word “proposal” to “contract” in the minutes, which she thought was more accurate.
Wake said that Dr. Taylor wasn’t involved with making that change.
Wake said that no board stated the minutes from that meeting were incorrect or questioned anything about them.
“I do not know what passed, but I know a proposal about Dr. Taylor’s retirement benefits were passed,” Wake said.
She said she didn’t know what the terms of the proposal or contract were though.
A copy of the contract was never included with the official board of trustees’ minutes, nor sent to them as part of the agenda, Wake said.
The minutes are mailed to all board members typically four to six weeks after the meeting, and the board members were asked to notify Wake about any corrections that needed to be made. Those minutes would then be approved at the next board meeting.
Wake said those minutes were approved, and no board members notified her that any corrections needed to be made.
Another of Wake’s duties was sending out packets of information to trustees prior to board meetings that also included copies of the proposed agenda for the meetings. Wake said she didn’t recall sending out copies of any contracts for Dr. Taylor to board members.
Wednesday afternoon’s testimony answered the question of where the copy of the Taylor contract that Cockrum found on his desk on July 1, 2015, came from.
Wake said Cockrum asked her in the winter of the 2014-2015 semester whether she had a copy of Dr. Taylor’s retirement contract.
“I said, ‘I am sure it is in HR (Human Resources).’ I didn’t have a copy of it,” Wake testified.
Wake said that she didn’t look for a copy of the contract at the time.
Wake testified that she accidently found a copy of what she thinks was it on June 30, 2015, near the bottom of a box she was cleaning out, which had assorted documents, including copies of things the board members had left on the conference table after the October 2014 board meeting.
Wake said she anted to get the box sorted before leaving that day because she was scheduled to have surgery the next day.
Wake said she put the document on Cockrum’s desk before she left with a note along the lines that she thought this was the document he had asked her about previously.
Wake didn’t testify as to whether she signed the note, but said she thinks Cockrum would have been able to recognize her handwriting at that point.
She testified she is aware that a copy of Taylor’s proposed 2012 contract was never placed with human resources.
“It did seem unusual,” Wake said.
At the time, copies of contracts involving Taylor would normally have been taken to human resources by Oaks, Taylor or Steve Morris, who was another vice president of the university in 2012.
Edelman noted that Oaks previously testified that he did not take a contract involving Dr. Taylor to human resources in 2012.
Wake said that she is not aware of the 2012 contract or “disputed agreement,” as it has been referred to in court, being attached to the board minutes.
Wake testified that from time to time, sealed envelopes were placed in the book where she kept the official minutes from the board of trustees meetings.
“I had no idea what was in there,” Wake said of the envelopes.
She recalled one instance where Dr. Taylor put a sealed envelope in the minute’s book.
She recalls Dr. Jim Oaks also asking her to place a sealed envelope in the minute’s book sometime in 2007.
The envelope said for her eyes only and was marked confidential.
Wake said that if there were secret minutes in the sealed envelope or envelopes she did not know to distribute those to the board members.
Wake said that she did not have the authority to let people look at sealed envelopes included with the minutes, and that only Dr. Taylor or Oaks, who at the time was board chairman, had the authority to do that.
The issue came up one time when auditors wanted to review a sealed document in the minutes, and Wake said she believed the auditors were able to do so after speaking with Taylor.
Learns of lawsuit
Wake said that she learned about the lawsuit when Dr. Taylor told her about it, and she provided him with documents from the university for the lawsuit, but didn’t go onto campus to get the documents. She had the copies of the documents stored on her computer at home. Wake said she didn’t consider the documents that she gave to Dr. Taylor’s attorney Duane Cook to be confidential.
When Wake met with Edelman at the Cumberland Inn to discuss the matter, Wake insisted on recording the interview, which she later gave to Cook, who is now also her attorney, Edelman noted during Wednesday’s hearing.
Wake noted that she shared information with Edelman too, and tried to get the matter resolved.
Wake said she offered to provide the university with electronic copies of everything from her computer at home.
She also testified that she felt she had an equal loyalty to Dr. Taylor and the university, which she was involved with for 47 years, and even at times put ahead of her own family.
Testimony was scheduled to resume Thursday in the case.
Since Williamsburg’s own Nick Wilson won “Survivor: David vs. Goliath” last month, Mayor Roddy Harrison gets lots of phone calls asking the same question.
“Well has anything ever happened any bigger? I go, ‘No. What could it be?’” Harrison told the crowd of over 100 people, who were gathered at the Williamsburg Tourism and Convention Center Monday for the city council’s monthly meeting and a ceremony to honor Wilson.
“I can’t think of anything any bigger that has ever happened to the city of Williamsburg or Whitley County bigger than this. It has just been phenomenal … Nick has made us all very, very proud. I know his family is, the city is, the county is, everybody is really proud. We wanted to take tonight to just say
thank you,” Harrison said.
Wilson beat out 19 other competitors and won the $1 million cash prize during the finale and live reunion show that aired on Dec. 19.
Harrison said he appreciated how Wilson talked about the community during his stint on Survivor.
“During the whole thing it was all about community and how he wanted to give back to his community and that is so important. His message was that you can do and achieve what you want regardless of your
situation. If it is not that good it doesn’t matter. If you want to do it, you can achieve it. He is a perfect example of that, and we love him for it. We thank you for your message,” Harrison said.
“I thought his message was very strong during his whole time and it meant a lot to us.”
During the ceremony, Harrison presented Wilson with a key to the city, and gave him a chance to address the crowd.
“Wow! It is (Survivor Host) Jeff Probst over again,” a smiling Wilson told the crowd,
which replied with a round of laughter. “I guess all I can really say is thank you.”
Wilson noted that there have been 37 seasons of Survivor with 36 winners because one woman won twice, but that Monday’s celebration was unique.
“I think it says a lot about where we are from and where we live in our community,” he said. “I don’t think I have ever seen something like this for the winner of Survivor or any other TV show. I think that says a lot about our community and where we are from. When I was out there in L.A. it felt like I had won Survivor. When I was in Fiji, it felt like I won it, but I wanted to win it for my family or for where I am from or for the community and all that.”
“When I came home after winning, it really feels like ‘we’ won Survivor, like it is something more than just what I did. That is what motivated me out there. I felt like I had a place that would be proud of me, and that I was proud of as well. I am forever grateful and thankful.”
“The other people in my cast are not having days like this. It is not because they didn’t win. I think it is because I am from Whitley County and they are not. I want to just say thank you all. God bless you, and thank you very much.”
Harrison also presented Wilson with a framed copy of a proclamation proclaiming Wednesday, Jan. 16 as “Nick Wilson Day” in the City of Williamsburg.
Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr. also presented Wilson with a framed copy of a proclamation proclaiming Jan. 16 as “Nick Wilson Day” in Whitley County.
“On behalf of Whitley County, I wanted to be here to celebrate with you on your big win, but also to thank you for what an example you set with the way you performed and how you represented our community,” White said.
White noted that during the finale episode, he and his three young sons all sat in front of the television cheering Wilson on.
“I think you really embody the values of this community, and the hard work ethic, and the morality that those boys and the other children of the community need to see,” White said.
82nd Rep. Regina Huff presented Wilson with Citation of Achievement from the Kentucky House of Representatives, and noted he will later be honored in Frankfort too.
Huff, who has known Wilson for several years, said that a sign will be likely be placed at Exit 11 in Williamsburg that will read, “Home of Survivor: David vs. Goliath winner Nick Wilson.”
“I can think of no one more deserving that Nick,” Huff said.
After the ceremony, Wilson noted that all the accolades were “really cool.”
“I wasn’t expecting all this. I am a little surprised and very happy. I am so grateful to the city and county and everyone,” Wilson said after the ceremony. “This means the world to me. This is where I grew up. This is where I always lived. This is what I have always seen, this sense of community and togetherness. I grew up in the Nevisdale area where we would all go play ball together. It was almost like everyone was family. I feel like I am treated like family again today. It is great.”
Filming for the show wrapped up in May and the final vote wasn’t revealed to the contestants until the reunion show in December, which was shown live on CBS.
Although he hadn’t seen the vote count, Wilson said he knew that he had won based on who he was up against in the finals.
“Who I made it to the end with, I knew I beat them. I have had to hold onto this secret for the last seven months,” Wilson said.
Wilson said holding onto the secret wasn’t too hard based on the potential penalties that could be imposed based on his contract with CBS.
“I had a couple of people to talk to about it. I talked to my girlfriend about it. Since I had someone to share with, it made it a lot easier,” he said.
So how much of the $1 million prize does Wilson get to keep and how much does he have to pay in taxes? This hasn’t been determined yet.
“Hopefully it won’t be half, but it could be. We will see,” Wilson said about the taxes that he definitely plans to pay.
Food workers in Whitley County will soon be required to get a Hepatitis A vaccination.
If the federal government shutdown continues much longer, at least some of the nearly 500 employees at the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) could be out of work for a while?
The Kentucky State Treasury has experienced another year of record unclaimed property returns under the leadership of Treasurer Allison Ball, her office announced Friday. Treasurer Ball has returned more unclaimed property in a three-year period than any state treasurer in Kentucky history.
To date, her office has returned over $70,167,000 to Kentuckians. This record amount of returns includes $2,032,476 returned to Whitley County since she took office.
“One of my favorite things to do as Treasurer is to return people’s money to them,” Treasurer Ball said. “I am a big believer in property rights and I am proud of the success we have seen at the Treasury in returning a record amount of property to Kentuckians.”
The Kentucky State Treasurer administers Kentucky’s Unclaimed Property Fund. Unclaimed property generally consists of payroll checks, unclaimed safety deposit boxes, old life insurance policies, stocks, and more that have remained unclaimed by their owners after several years. The Treasury’s Unclaimed Property Division works diligently to reunite these items with their owners, or in cases where the owner is deceased, the owner’s family.
Whitley Countians still have over $3,056,498 of unclaimed property waiting to be claimed. To search for unclaimed property, please visit www.treasury.ky.gov.