2004 was a year that brought great change to Whitley County and the surrounding area as new businesses opened, prayers were answered with a local child surviving serious illnesses, and a local manufacturer going through highs and lows.
Last year’s top two stories again made the list this time around.
Below are a list of the top 10 stories that dominated the headlines in Whitley County during the past year as voted on by the News Journal staff.
1) Alcohol is sold legally in Corbin
The decision by Corbin voters to legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink on May 20, 2003, was voted the second biggest story of the year last year.
On Dec. 31, 2003, El Dorados, which is located in the Old Reno’s Roadhouse off Exit 25, became the first restaurant to file for a liquor license.
On Feb. 26, the restaurant became the first to legally serve alcohol to the public since the 1950s. The move resulted in business that first weekend tripling for El Dorados.
As the year progressed, Angels and Wings got the second liquor license in late April followed by O’Malley’s applying for a license in June.
In October, the Vintage House became the fourth restaurant to open up and serve alcohol in Corbin followed by The Depot, which opened in late November.
Buckner’s, a long time locally owned restaurant in Jellico, is also preparing to open a second location in Corbin near Exit 15.
2) One tough kid
The plight of Sage Bollman captured the hearts and filled the prayers of Corbin and Whitley County residents in 2004.
On June 22, Corbin school officials announced that a four-year-old student in the preschool program had been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.
Meningitis is an infection of the fluid that surrounds a person’s spinal cord and brain. Bacterial meningitis can be severe and can cause brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. Doctors initially thought he would die shortly after contracting the disease.
Bollman spent much of the summer in New York and New Jersey hospitals. While there, he underwent painful burn therapy, amputation of both of his legs below the knees, amputation of the tips of several fingers, and organ failure. He managed to hang on, and steadily improved over the weeks. He was then transferred to Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, and got to come home on Sunday, August 29, to his home church.
“It is absolutely without a doubt in my mind (a miracle),” said his mother, Laura Coddington.
3) CTA adjusts
An explosion at the CTA plant in Corbin on Feb. 23, 2003, claimed the lives of seven people, and injured 43 others. It was the top story last year.
CTA continued to make headlines again this year as workers and plant officials remembered the explosion on its one-year anniversary, and announced weeks later that 26 workers would be temporarily laid off on March 8.
In April the company paid $49,000 in fines to the state Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet over citations issued following the blast.
On May 7, the company celebrated a “new beginning” by formally dedicating a state-of-the-art $50 million manufacturing plant in Corbin.
“It’s a great day for the community, and a great day for us,” said CTA Acoustics Chairman and CEO James Pike. “We’re dedicating this facility to our past, present, and future employees. It’s very important it stays here, works here, and flourishes here.”
In late August, the company announced another round of layoffs for 20 hourly workers citing problems in the automotive industry.
CTA makes acoustical insulation products for, primarily, the automotive industry, but also to be used as building products.
4) Frankfort connection
With the election of Kentucky’s first Republican governor in more than 20 years, some long-time Whitley County leaders bore well.
In early February, Gov. Ernie Fletcher pegged Williamsburg Mayor Bill Nighbert to become the Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Local Government in Frankfort.
Nighbert had served as Williamsburg mayor for 10 years.
It wasn’t the only move Fletcher made to fill state cabinet posts with Whitley County leaders.
On July 16, Fletcher appointed Paul David Steely as Kentucky’s first ever Commissioner of the Department of Aviation.
Steely, a Williamsburg native, had served as chairman of the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport Board for more than 12 years. He took over the newly created post on Aug. 2.
On Sept. 13, Corbin Mayor Scott Williamson announced plans to resign in order to take a top ranking post in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Williamson was Corbin’s longest serving mayor having held the position for nearly 11 years.
5) Local institutions are no more
Two-long time Whitley County businesses, which were virtual institutions in their communities permanently closed last year, but for two vastly different reasons.
After 52 years of operating, the Corbin Drive-In Theater announced plans in late March to shut down.
The Corbin landmark, which was one of only 425 drive-in theaters still in existence nationwide, closed not for lack of business, but rather to the cost of doing business.
Jreg Botner, whose family owned the theater and adjacent Corbin Ice Company, said the inability to insure the drive-in’s mammoth screen, among other things, as the cause of its demise.
On April 26, BJ’s Restaurant went up in flames after more than 14 years in business.
“I’m shocked. I’m killed. It was just home,” owner Jane Moses said as she watched firefighters try and extinguish the blaze. “You get your customers and they are just family to you. The Shriners and all the clubs, there are jut so many memories there.”
BJ’s Restaurant, which had been operating as Aunt Freda’s Fireside and Grill for the previous six months, was gutted by the fire shortly after proprietors closed up for the night. Firefighters said the blaze started in a bathroom garbage can.
6) Adult bookstore reaction
More than 500 concerned citizens gathered at Keck Baptist Church on June 26 to show their opposition to the recent opening of an adult bookstore in the Gray community of Knox County.
The store, known as “Dream World”, opened in June along US25E, and soon after that Knox County police officers arrested the owner and cashier charging them with one count each of distributing obscene material.
The opening of the store had repercussions throughout the area.
The Whitley County Fiscal Court declared an “emergency” on Aug. 17 in order to pass a newly created 22-page ordinance to regulate adult businesses. With the emergency ordinance in place, magistrates were able to immediately implement the new ordinance after one reading rather than having two readings on it.
Less than a week later, the Corbin City Commission held back-to-back special meetings to pass an ordinance to regulate “adult-oriented” businesses within the city limits.
7) New jail opens, but problems persist
The opening of the new 150-bed Whitley County Jail in late August was supposed to help bring in end to overcrowding at the old facility.
After dealing with months of delays due to water and sewer lines not being completed, it looked as if the opening of the new 150-bed Whitley County Jail in late August might bring an end to overcrowding, and other problems that plagued the old jail.
This wasn’t to be the case, as new problems surfaced.
The housing of Knox County inmates, due to that county’s jail had been shut down, caused the population in the new Whitley County Jail to reach nearly 200 people with 250 inmates being housed at one point.
On Oct. 18, Whitley County Judge-Executive Mike Patrick announced plans to take out a $300,000 loan to help balance the jail budget. Much of the shortfall was blamed on the jail not sending Knox County a bill for housing their inmates for the prior three months.
But even after the fiscal court passed a resolution capping the number of jail employees at 32, Patrick said the budget shortfall was still projected to be $150,000 more than had been budgeted.
Whitley County Jailer Jerry Taylor said 32 full-time employees aren’t enough to run the facility.
Jail problems didn’t end there.
On Nov. 22, a McCreary County Grand Jury indicted seven people in a scheme that involved checks stolen from the jail, which were later forged and cashed at McCreary County businesses.
On Dec. 26, three inmates broke out of the maximum-security wing of the jail, by going up through an access panel, entering the heating and air-conditioning vents, and climbing down the roof.
Deputy jailers didn’t know the men were missing until nearly 11 hours later when one of them got a visitor.
8) Contested elections bring new faces
Election Day on Nov. 2 saw a record turnout in Whitley County as nearly 55 percent of registered voters went to the polls.
Of more significance locally, the race also saw the election of two new city commissioners in Corbin, a new mayor in Williamsburg, a new city councilman there, and two new Williamsburg school board members.
With seven people running for four seats, Corbin voters re-elected incumbents Phil Gregory and Alan Onkst in addition to newcomers Joe Shelton and Bruce Farris.
Incumbent Ed Tye lost out on his bid for re-election after serving 15 years on the commission. The other seat had been vacant following the appointment of Amos Miller as mayor.
Long-time Williamsburg City Councilman Roddy Harrison was elected mayor by a 1,000 vote margin over his opponent, Bobby Bryant.
Harrison is serving out the remainder of the term, which was vacated by the resignation of Nighbert in late January.
Donnie Witt Sr. replaced Harrison on the council.
The Williamsburg Independent Board of Education got new members Kim Broome White Allan W. Steely leaving incumbent Dwight Jones without a seat.
White garnered 979 votes to Steely’s 824 votes, Jones 531 votes, and Joshua “Spanky” Bunch’s 293 votes.
Incumbent Carroll “Cissy” Lunce decided not to seek re-election.
9) Kennel busted
On Jan. 8, Whitley County Animal Control Officer Steve Schwartz knocked on the door of Royal Oaks Kennel armed with a search warrant, and found floors lined with rodent droppings, and water bowls that were frozen and had mildew on top.
“The animals were overcrowded living in their own feces, and that kind of thing. We found a lot of injuries that had been left for too long. Most of the animals there needed some type of veterinary care,” noted Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter Director Jason Noell.
Schwartz cited the owners, Randall Geary, 70, and Jean Geary, 68, with 150 misdemeanor counts of second-degree cruelty to animals in addition to charges of failing to remove a health hazard, and for having straight pipes that sent animal waste into a nearby stream.
The Geary’s lawyer, Warren Scoville, blamed the problem on some employees that weren’t doing their jobs, and the couple agreed to get out of the dog kennel business once all the animals were nursed back to health and sold off.
10) Selvy honored
On Feb. 13, 1954, Frank “The Corbin Comet” Selvy scored 100 points while playing in a game for Furman University against Newberry College. Only two other players have ever scored 100 points or more in either a professional of college basketball game.
On Feb. 28, Selvy, and his brothers, Curly, Edd, Curt and Marvin were recognized by a crowd of 400 people for their contributions to Corbin High School Athletics.
“We just wanted to thank and honor you for all that you’ve meant to this community. Corbin is proud of the Selvy family,” noted Corbin Director of Economic Development Bob Terrell, who was a teammate of Frank Selvy’s at Corbin High School on the 1950 basketball team.
In addition to numerous other honors, city officials named a portion of 8th Street honorably after Selvy.