CSX announces closure of W.Va. offices
In a press release sent to The Erwin Record and other media outlets, CSX announced the closing of administrative offices in Huntington, W.Va., a move that followed similar moves in Erwin and in Corbin, Ky.
“As CSX (Nasdaq: CSX) continues to match its network resources to business demand and drive additional efficiency, the company announced today that it is consolidating its operations administration from 10 divisions to nine divisions and closing the administrative offices at Huntington, West Virginia,” the press release said.
The administrative responsibilities previously assigned to the Huntington offices were reassigned to divisions in Atlanta, Baltimore, Florence, Great Lakes and Louisville, the company also reported.
Board of Education unanimously votes to remove Christian flag
In a unanimous vote, the Unicoi County Board of Education voted to donate the Christian flag previously on display in its boardroom to the Unicoi County Ministerial Association.
The vote, which took place in front of a large crowd during a meeting of the board on Jan. 21, officially addressed a request that the flag be removed from the boardroom issued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in November 2015.
In November, the FFRF sent a letter to Director of Schools John English and the board and requested the removal of the flag.
“The Christian flag being displayed during public school board meetings unabashedly created the perception of government endorsement of Christianity,” FFRF staff attorney Rebecca Markert stated in the letter. “The display of this Christian flag is a brazen affront to the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. …”
“Over the past couple of months there has been significant debate and discussion regarding the Christian flag that stands alongside the American flag behind us,” English said during the January meeting. “This flag has stood there largely unnoticed for many, many years as a quiet symbol of the values many citizens in our community share. Accordingly, most of us were surprised when someone voiced an objection to this flag in early November.”
English then said he and the board have consulted with their attorney, Scott Bennett of the Chattanooga firm Leitner & Williams, and other organizations regarding the issue on several occasions.
“We have come to understand that while the (Christian) flag represents a faith shared by most of this community, according to federal law no governmental entity is allowed to endorse a particular religious viewpoint under our system of government,” English continued. “We, as members of the Unicoi County Board of Education, have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the state of Tennessee.
“As a result, while we as individuals strongly affirm our commitment to those things that the Christian flag represents, we as governmental officials recognize that this flag can only be displayed by individuals of this community who have rights of freedom of expression and can legally enjoy to exercise that freedom, especially when it comes to religion,” English continued. “Accordingly, it seems most fitting that we should donate it to people in this community who can and will fly this flag in exercise of those individual rights.”
Voting in favor of donating the flag were board members Tyler Engle, Garland “Bubba” Evely, Cathy Thomas, Steve Willis, Ruth Gaines and Lisa White.
Following the vote, English officially presented the Christian flag to Rev. Noah Taylor, pastor of Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church and president of the Unicoi County Ministerial Association.
Baker resigns as Erwin alderman
Citing a possible conflict of interest created by a new job, Michael Baker resigned his post as an alderman for the town of Erwin.
Baker announced his resignation during a meeting of the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Jan. 25 at Town Hall.
In a letter sent to Mayor Doris Hensley, Baker states: “I regret to inform you but effective at the adjournment of our Jan. 25, 2016, Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting I will no longer be an alderman for the town of Erwin.
“The reason for my resignation is I have accepted a position with a company that does a great deal of business with the town of Erwin,” Baker continues in the letter. “I feel that it would be against our Code of Ethics and a conflict of interest if I were to be employed by this business and be on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
Production company to county to create great balls of fire
From sinkholes to explosions, the former Love Chapel Elementary building continued to see it’s fair share of excitement during February 2016.
The building, recently renovated into Quantum Ascension Studios, saw a handful of special effects taking place last week as RodyPolis, a special effects company based out of Johnson City, participated in a weeklong $60,000 special effects project for the company’s ActionVFX.
RodyPolis utilized the goal of ActionVFX, which the company will open under the RodyPolis umbrella, as a one-stop-shop of sorts for filmmakers and visual effects artist to purchase stock effects, ranging from fireballs, explosions and bullets.
RodyPolis also utilized the efforts of the Red Epic Dragon camera, normally used for feature films and television shows. The company leased the camera which retails for over $45,000, not including the lens.
The company’s goal is to create the best explosion, fire, fireball and smoke stock footage packs, according to its company’s website. A Kickstarter campaign was created to raise additional funding and the project steamrolled by raising $59,309 from 446 backers to get the project underway.
Children injured in Unicoi house fire
An 8-year-old female was injured in a fire that completely destroyed a Unicoi home on Feb. 7.
Sheriff Mike Hensley told The Erwin Record the girl suffered severe burns in the fire, which was first reported around 1:30 a.m. Hensley said 11 individuals were in the home when the fire was discovered by an elderly female.
“She was sleeping on the couch and woke up to use the restroom,” Hensley said. “When she returned, the couch was on fire.”
The woman immediately notified the other occupants of the home and they exited the structure.
A Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department deputy was on Unicoi Drive when the call was dispatched and he arrived within moments, Hensley said.
“When the officer arrived, the home was completely engulfed in flames,” Hensley added. “It was a chaotic scene.”
After exiting the home, the 8-year-old female attempted to go back inside the burning house to retrieve a toy, according to Hensley.
“She ran back to the house and a 10-year-old boy tried to stop her,” he added. “Both children were then severely burned.”
Lafever appointed as Erwin alderman
Mark Lafever was appointed to the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Feb. 8 following a nomination by Mayor Doris Hensley, which was unanimously approved by the BMA. Lafever will join the board to serve the unexpired term of former alderman Michael Baker, who resigned from his post in January.
“I want to thank the mayor and board for this opportunity,” Lafever told The Erwin Record. “It’s flattering they recommended me to be part of the board during this crucial time for the town. I’m excited about helping move Erwin forward for the years to come.”
Lafever has had his fair share of experience working with the town. He previously served as an alderman, being elected for terms in 2006 and 2010, before being hired as the town’s public works director. Lafever served in that post until 2015.
Board of Education unanimously approves K-5 consolidation
After three public forums, during which they received feedback from employees, parents and other stakeholders, the Unicoi County Board of Education unanimously voted to close Unicoi County Intermediate School and return all of the county’s elementary schools to Kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) campuses during a meeting on Feb. 11.
All members of the board were present at the meeting.
“After the tremendous feedback we received at our community meetings – and I want to thank the board for making that available – I feel more strongly than I did before that this is the right move for our students and for our district,” Director of Schools John English said prior to the vote. “Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, I recommend the board vote to close the Intermediate School and make all our elementary schools K-5 programs.”
Board member Lisa White then made a motion to approve English’s recommendation. Her motion was seconded by board member Ruth Gaines. The board then unanimously approved English’s recommendation.
MSHA approves proposal for new facility
Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), the health system which owns Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, announced that MSHA’s board of directors approved a proposal created by the Unicoi County community board for the new hospital.
“After 18 months of work, the local community’s visioning committee and hospital board, composed of community leaders from throughout Unicoi County, proposed a strategic vision for the new hospital,” a press release issued by MSHA on Feb. 12 stated. “This vision includes an outline for service offerings based on the assessed needs of the community looking forward.”
The proposal was made to the MSHA board of directors on Feb. 5; it was met with unanimous approval, according to the health system. Bringing a new facility to Unicoi County will be an estimated $20 million investment by MSHA. The health system has reportedly subsidized $15 million in healthcare services to the county.
The vision committee reportedly compiled a list of 10 guiding principles to serve as a guide for the creation of the new hospital, which was based on the members’ knowledge of the community and its needs. MSHA announced that based on these guiding principles the facility should be: Patient and family centered; safe and efficient; economically feasible; accessible and easy to navigate; able to optimize resources; flexible and adaptable; supportive of advanced technology; environmentally friendly; attractive to healthcare professionals; and supportive of higher education.
Peterson, interim property assessor, passes away
Following his death at age 61 on Feb. 16, Wayne Peterson, Jr., was remembered by Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch as hard-working man who served his community with pride.
“I always had a lot of respect for Wayne,” Lynch told The Erwin Record. “He was always willing to help however he could. He was a good-hearted person. He will be missed.”
Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission as the interim assessor of property in April 2015 following the resignation of Patsy Bennett. During his time leading the office, Peterson had a very positive impact, Lynch said.
“He succeeded in moving the computer system to what is compatible with the state,” Lynch said. “That was very important for the county. He made sure all of his staff was trained for their respective jobs.”
Seward, candidate for assessor, passes away,wins primary
Margaret Shelton Seward, a candidate for Unicoi County Assessor of Property on the March 1 primary ballot, died in the early hours of that morning, according to Unicoi County Clerk Mitzi Bowen. She was 53.
Seward worked as a deputy clerk in Bowen’s office for five years.
“Margaret was a wonderful person,” Bowen said. “She was very hardworking, very dedicated to her job and very dependable. I couldn’t have asked for a better employee.
“But, she was not only an employee – she was a friend and a sister. We are all family in our office.”
Bowen also offered condolences to Seward’s family.
“All of our hearts are broken,” Bowen said. “The community has lost a remarkable lady. She was dedicated to her job, to her family and to the Lord.”
Seward is the second candidate for assessor to perish in recent weeks: Wayne Peterson, Jr., died on Feb. 16 at the age of 61.
Because Seward and Peterson died following the creation of the Unicoi County Republican March 1 primary ballot, both remained on the ballot.
“Once our voting machine is set, it can’t be changed,” Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey previously said.
Bailey said Tuesday that Peterson’s and Seward’s votes would be tallied and counted just like other candidates. These votes include those cast for Peterson and Seward during the early voting period which took place from Feb. 10-23.
Should Peterson or Seward win the primary, Bailey said the local Republican party will become involved.
“If he or she were to win, because it is a Republican primary, a vacancy would be declared and it would be put to the local Republican party to fill the vacancy based on their party rules,” she added.
Regal Beloit announces move of motor operations out of Shallow Ford plant
On Thursday, March 3, the Regal Beloit Corporation confirmed to The Erwin Record that the Morrill Motors plant located at Shallowford in Erwin would begin a restructuring process, which will continue for the remainder of this year. This will affect more than 100 employees as the motor division moves to other Regal locations.
In a news release issued to local media, the company stated: “Regal Beloit Corporation has informed the employees at its Erwin, Tenn., location of the company’s decision to restructure some operations at the facility. Motor production at this facility will be transferred to other Regal facilities by the end of 2016. This will affect approximately 108 employees. Consolidating this operation into existing Regal facilities will enable the company to remain globally competitive. The decision to restructure this facility is not a reflection on the efforts or performance of our employees.”
Surgical services cease at UCMH
As plans continued for the creation of the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital (UCMH) building, Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), the health system that owns the county hospital, announced a reduction of services offered at both the current and future facilities.
With rumors circulating that surgical services at the current UCMH building would end, MSHA issued a statement on Tuesday, March 1, to The Erwin Record confirming surgeries will not be performed.
“While planning for construction of the new hospital, research by the hospital’s visioning committee revealed that there are only a total of 6 to 7 surgical cases per day performed on Unicoi County residents in every hospital in the region,” MSHA Corporate Director of Communications Teresa Hicks said. “Even if the hospital were able to perform 100 percent of the surgeries in its service area, the volume would not be enough to ensure the needed level of quality.
“Most surgeries for patients from Unicoi County are currently performed in Washington County at Johnson County Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital or the two ambulatory surgery centers in Johnson City,” Hicks continued.
A decrease in surgical volume at UCMH led to the change, according to Hicks, who also said that over the years that UCMH averaged less than one surgery per day at the facility.
American Job Center opens in new downtown Erwin location
The American Job Center of Unicoi County officially has a new home, nestled inside downtown Erwin.
After months of operating at the East Tennessee State University extension official located on North Main Avenue, the Center reopened its doors to the public on March 14 at 201 South Main Ave. in the former Mountain Commerce Bank building.
“This is our first day that we’ve been open,” Career Specialist Johanna Miller said. “It has already been a huge difference. To go from a one room space, sharing with ETSU, it has been exciting and neat. Tish (Oldham) was very helpful in letting us set up in her office. But it has been great to move here. We can offer training courses and other things we couldn’t offer at the other facility. I can provide those services and that’s what is going to help people get the better jobs and find employment.”
Commission appoints Kinsler as interim property assessor
The Unicoi County Commission appointed Teresa Kinsler as the interim assessor of property during a regularly scheduled meeting held on March 28 at the courthouse.
Kinsler, who has worked in the assessor’s office since 2009, will serve in an interim capacity until Aug. 31. She was sworn-in by Judge David Shults during a ceremony at the courthouse on March 29.
“It was surreal,” Kinsler said about being appointed by the Commission. “I am very happy that people know that I am doing this job to serve the county.”
Kinsler and Alan “Rocky” McInturff, who placed second in the race during the March 1 primary, were nominated for the interim position during the meeting. Prior to the nominations, the Commission and audience observed a moment of silence in memory of Wayne Peterson and Margaret Seward, the two candidates for assessor who died prior to election day. Peterson, who died in February, had served as interim assessor since April 2015. Seward, who died in the early morning hours of March 1, won the primary, creating a vacancy for the position on the August ballot.
Fire destroys hundreds of acres in Cherokee National Forest
A successful burnout allowed firefighters to almost completely contain a blaze that burned through hundreds of acres in sections of the Cherokee National Forest in Unicoi County.
“The 150-acre burnout that took place on Sunday (April 3) went well,” Deborah Walker, fire information officer and ranger with Uwharrie National Forest in North Carolina, told The Erwin Record on April 4. “The burnout moved the fire to over 300 acres, but containment is over 80 percent and we’re in the process now of having workers leave the area in the next couple of days.”
Remaining embers from the blaze, the cause of which is still under investigation, are expected to fade away this week, according to Walker. Battling the fire cost an estimated $340,000.
Top education official tours middle school
As part of a tour of schools in Northeast Tennessee, the state’s top education official visited Unicoi County Middle School on Friday, April 8.
Guided by school system officials, including Director of Schools John English, and students Bella Bogart and L.J. Phillips, Dr. Candice McQueen, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, visited several classrooms, observed lessons and spoke with teachers and students about a variety of topics. McQueen observed a math class, a language arts class and a history class before visiting the Early Learning Center which is also located in the building.
Following the tour, McQueen said she “thoroughly enjoyed” the time she spent interacting with the students and teachers of UCMS.
“The students are very articulate and clearly have a great relationship with the teachers,” she said. “It was nice to see the integration of that relationship and how (the teachers) are thoroughly looking at their data, thoroughly trying to making improvements and trying to grow kids, but also continually trying to build those relationships.”
Unicoi County chosen for state’s Property Evaluation Program
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) announced in April that Unicoi County was one of a handful of counties selected for the Select Tennessee Property Evaluation Program (PEP).
“We are excited to announce the eight counties that have been selected to participate in the PEP Spring Round,” TNECD Commissioner Randy Boyd said in a press release issued to The Erwin Record. “By assisting counties across the state in evaluating and improving their sites, we can make sure these communities will be better equipped to attract potential new business and create future economic growth.”
Unicoi County submitted seven properties that will be examined by Austin Consulting, a site selection firm, to have locations prepared either for industrial expansion or new businesses entering the area.
“One of the key reasons it is so important is because we’re going to have excellent guidance from the Department of Economic and Community Development,” Tish Oldham, JEDB executive director, told The Erwin Record on April 19. “Being able to have a group like Austin Consulting come in with their experience of site selection … they’re seeing it from the perspective of someone looking for a prime spot. They’ll be able to help us dissect what we have, see where we need to go next, whether something is viable and if we’re making our investments in the best place. It’s always good to hear from someone who is talking with the private sector entities so we can work on how to make those public-private partnerships work best.”
Of the seven properties listed by the JEDB, the Dry Creek area, which has reportedly been a target for a potential expansion by NN, Inc., was listed, as was the former Morgan Insulation building and the ownerless property where CSX operated.
Top election official visits local office
In what officials said was a first for the county, the state’s top election official visited the office of the Unicoi County Election Commission on May 2.
Tennessee Administrator of Elections Mark Goins was greeted by Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey and by Election Commission members Tom Reeves, who serves as chairman, Paul Monk, Roland Bailey and Marvin Rogers.
“This is historic,” Reeves said. “We have never had someone from your office visit us.”
Following a tour of the Election Commission office, Goins fielded questions from Bailey and panel members. Discussed at length the issue of schools being open on election days. Many schools, including schools in Unicoi County, are used as polling places. Goins said a bill to close schools on election days failed to pass the State Legislature during its most recent session. Instead, local school districts will be able to decide whether or not to have school on election days.
“The bill to flat out close school (on election days) did not pass,” Goins said. “… I think it is a school safety issue.”
The Election Commission members agreed.
Hensley resigns from Unicoi BMA
(From the Johnson City Press)
A short-handed Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen gave first-reading approval to a $2.4 million town budget for fiscal 2016-17 in a unanimous vote by the mayor and what is now a three-member panel of aldermen.
Absent was former Alderman Phillip Hensley, who the Johnson City Press learned after the meeting had resigned. While Hensley’s status was not discussed during Monday’s meeting, Mayor Johnny Lynch and Vice Mayor Doug Hopson confirmed Hensley’s resignation, midway through his four-year term.
Tankersley wins national titles
From the Valley Beautiful and around the country, Nolan Tankersley has seen his fair share of success on the roadways.
The Unicoi County native and East Tennessee State University cyclist added another notch to his belt by earning two first place finishes in the USA Cycling National Collegiate Championship Road Race and Criterium held in North Carolina May 13 and 14.
“It was the best of my cycling career,” Nolan told The Erwin Record. “Finishing the race and seeing my family and friends cheering me on at the finish line … I was fighting back tears.”
Nolan, along with his brother, Connor, have been on the forefront of helping the cycling scene expand locally. The home turf atmosphere, along with seeing support come for himself and other local riders over the weekend continues to show the growth of cycling in the area, Nolan said.
“My fifth grade teacher was there for the event,” he said. “It’s great to see how much cycling has grown and what it has turned into over the years.”
MSHA chooses architect, builder for new hospital
A new hospital for Unicoi County became one step closer to reality during May 26.
Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), the health system which owns Unicoi County Memorial Hospital (UCMH), announced that an architect and builder have been selected to build the new facility.
Earl Swennson Associates (ESA) was recently chosen as the architect and Layton Construction as the builder by the hospital’s community board and its visioning committee. Both are located in Nashville.
“This is an exciting time because we’re one step closer to having a new hospital for Unicoi County,” said Eric Carroll, AVP/administrator at Unicoi County Memorial Hospital. “We feel really good about our selection of these two firms. We’re familiar with ESA because of their experience with Mountain States, and we were very impressed with their presentation and ideas for this project. We’re right on track for a groundbreaking next spring.”
MSHA reported that ESA has designed two of its Southwest Virginia facilities – Smyth County Community Hospital and Johnston Memorial Hospital.
The new UCMH is to be located on Temple Hill Road, just off I-26 at Exit 40. MSHA closed on the purchase of this property in July 2015. As part of the agreement MSHA signed when purchasing UCMH in late 2013, the health system committed to have a new hospital in Unicoi County operational within five years. Construction of the new hospital, which is estimated to cost $20 million, is slated to begin in spring of 2017 and should open in the fall of 2018, MSHA reported.
Commissioner, former sheriff passes away
Walter Garland, a well-known Unicoi County public servant, passed away on May 27. He was 81.
Garland, who was serving as Unicoi County Commissioner representing the third district at the time of this death, was born in Burnsville, N.C., but lived his entire life in Unicoi County, according to his obituary.
“Walter always took his job as a county commissioner very seriously,” County Mayor Greg Lynch told The Erwin Record. “He was always looking out for the best interest of the taxpayers. The people who elected him were always his number one concern.”
In addition to his service on the County Commission, Garland was a former sheriff and chief deputy for the county, as well as a policeman for the town of Erwin. He also served the county through the Unicoi Ruritan Club and as a member of the county’s Civil Service board.
“I am going to miss working with him, both (in county government) and with the Ruritan Club,” Lynch said. “He was always at our functions to help us, whether it was slicing strawberries or selling hotdogs at the Strawberry Festival – Walter and his wife, Betty, were always there, always contributing. The community is going to miss him.”
Republicans choose not to place candidate on August ballot
There was to be no candidate representing the Unicoi County Republican party in the race for Unicoi County Assessor of Property on the Aug. 4 General Election ballot.
The party’s Executive Committee met May 28 at the Unicoi County Courthouse and unanimously voted not to place a candidate on the ballot; instead, allowing individuals interested in the office to run as write-in candidates.
The committee included Debbie Tittle, Terry Haynes, Mitzi Bowen, Lynn Woodruff, Kent Harris, Sarah Sellars and Jim Buchanan, who chairs the committee.
Tittle, the county’s register of deeds and the county party’s vice-chairman, motioned not to place a candidate on the ballot, saying “… I think that this is still America; it is still a democracy and this ought to be in the hands of the people. It is my opinion that we shouldn’t have a nominee and allow the people who would like to qualify as candidates for the Unicoi County assessor’s position to launch write-in campaigns. …”
Tittle’s motion was seconded by Terry Haynes, the county’s road superintendent and vice-president of the county party.
“People feel like because Wayne passed away they lost their vote,” Haynes said. “Then Margaret passed away and other people felt like they lost their vote. We had no control over that. This has never happened (in Tennessee). … In my heart, I feel like the people want to speak again.”
The committee then unanimously passed Tittle’s motion.
Ledford retires as director, committee appoints interim
The Unicoi County 911 committee addressed the vacancy created by 911 Director Patsy Ledford’s retirement during a regularly scheduled meeting in June 2016.
Ledford retired from her position that month after 23 years of work inside the county.
“I’ve done my job and worked my butt off over the years,” Ledford said during the meeting. “I’ve loved ever minute of it. 911 has been my baby, but it’s time to be with my family.”
The personnel committee branch of the emergency services group, spearheaded by Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson, discussed the process of selecting an interim during the meeting.
Tilson stated that the committee is working with a June 17 deadline to receive applications for the position and that five resumes have already been submitted. A pair of individuals have also requested information about the director spot.
“We could expect around 12 applications, if not more, by the deadline,” Tilson said. “We’ve had individuals express interest from Sevier County, Greene County, Washington County, Carter County and internally.”
After a brief discussion, the floor opened for suggestions on an interim director with Tilson nominating Robert Adams, with the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department, due to his dispatching knowledge and work with the board.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch agreed with Tilson’s nomination and closed the floor for any other nominations. The committee voted unanimously on the nomination, with Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, a Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department representative and Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch not in attendance. Ledford left the meeting before the vote for Adams.
“Robert has been a great help for me,” Bill Hensley, chairman of the 911 committee, said. “I know he’ll do a great job, along with the employees.”
County mourns teen’s passing
An auto accident during the morning hours of June 10 claimed the life of Ashlie Padgett, a Unicoi County teen described as a “true friend” and a “special, special young lady.”
Director of Schools John English said Padgett graduated from Unicoi County High School last month. A three-sport athlete, she was voted on by the school’s coaches as female athlete of the year. She played basketball, softball and volleyball.
“I had the privilege of being her principal in middle school,” English said. “Without a doubt, she had the sweetest disposition of any student I have been around. She was a special, special young lady.”
English said Padgett will also be remembered for her smile.
“So many people talk about her smile,” he said. “It was absolutely infectious. It would light up any place she was.”
English also said the “unbelievable outpouring of support” for Padgett’s family is a testament to her character. “Ashlie was good to everybody,” he said. “She didn’t have any enemies. Everybody liked Ashlie.”
Crash during pursuit kills teen
One of the three Washington County teens involved in a wreck during a pursuit on June 20 by county law enforcement officers has died.
Sheriff Mike Hensley told The Erwin Record the teen, who was the lone female in the vehicle, passed away around midnight on June 21. She had been in critical condition at Johnson City Medical Center. She has been identified as 14-year-old Lacey Burton of Embreeville, Hensley said. She has also been referred to as Lacey Briggs.
The male juveniles are 14- and 15-years-old. Their names have not been released by law enforcement. The 15-year-old was the driver of the vehicle and Lacey’s brother, according to law enforcement.
The pursuit, which traveled from Unicoi County into Washington County for approximately 15 miles, began after the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call reporting a robbery that had allegedly occurred on Rice Creek Road in the Flag Pond community.
“At approximately 12:30 p.m. we received a 911 call,” Hensley said. “A person had been robbed and tied up in his residence. He was able to free himself and went to a deputy who lived close by and used the phone to call 911.
“A (be-on-the-lookout) was put out on the suspect’s vehicle. My chief deputy (Frank Rogers) and other officers spotted the vehicle a short time after the 911 call around Exit 40.”
Hensley said Rogers attempted to stop the vehicle, however, the driver refused to stop and exited Interstate 26 and drove down State Route 81 into Washington County. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the pursuit, which turned right onto Cherokee Road, Hensley said.
As the vehicle, which was later identified as a 2000 Ford Ranger owned by the victim, approached the intersection of Cherokee Road and Charlie Hicks Road, the driver lost control of the truck. According to a crash report by the Tennessee Highway Patrol and shared with The Johnson City Press, “while negotiating a curve, (the truck) lost control and over corrected. As a result, (the truck) rolled several times before coming to a final rest on its top …” Burton was ejected from the vehicle. None of the passengers were wearing seatbelts, according to the THP report.
It was not until after the crash that officers learned the three suspects were teenagers, according to Hensley.