Commission appoints Wilcox to complete Garland’s term

By Brad Hicks

The vacant seat on the Unicoi County Commission once held by the late Walter J. Garland, a former Unicoi County sheriff and chief deputy, as well as policeman for the town of Erwin, will now be filled by a fellow lawman.

Todd Wilcox, left, takes the oath of office in front of Judge David Shults on Tuesday, July 26. Wilcox was appointed to the Unicoi County Commission by the panel on Monday to complete the unexpired term of Walter Garland. Garland passed away in late May. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

Todd Wilcox, left, takes the oath of office in front of Judge David Shults on Tuesday, July 26. Wilcox was appointed to the Unicoi County Commission by the panel on Monday to complete the unexpired term of Walter Garland. Garland passed away in late May. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

On Monday, July 25, the Unicoi County Commission appointed Todd Wilcox, an officer/detective with the Erwin Police Department, to fill the 3rd District seat on the panel left vacant due to Garland’s death in late May.

Following Monday’s meeting, Wilcox called the appointment “overwhelming.”

“I came in here and I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” he said. “I was hoping I was going to get it. If not, when another election came up, I’d try it then. I’m thankful to get it.”

Wilcox, a Unicoi County native, has been employed by the Erwin Police Department since September 2010. He has also served as a combat medic with the U.S. Army National Guard since April 2015.

Wilcox worked as an officer for the Wise, Va., Police Department from November 2009 to September 2010, and as a deputy with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from September 2007 to November 2009. He also served with the 134th Security Forces Squadron of the U.S. Air Force National Guard at Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport from November 2006 to March 2008, and served with the 78th Security Forces Squadron of the U.S. Air Force at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga., from February 2005 to November 2006.

A 2001 graduate of Unicoi County High School, Wilcox earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from East Tennessee State University in 2013 and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security from the American Military University.

Wilcox is also a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and served on the Unicoi County Civil Service Board from 2014 to 2015. Wilcox said he enjoys serving the county and feels a spot on the county commission will allow to further serve the community. Wilcox said while he will take a particular interest in the needs of the 3rd District, he hopes to act in the best interests of Unicoi County as a whole.

“I’m looking forward to serving,” he said. “I love this county. I’ve elected to stay here, and I’ve dedicated my life to serving people in law enforcement and hopefully in this capacity, too.”

Wilcox’s appointment came on the Unicoi County Commission’s first round of voting. The panel opted to nominate each of the five people who previously submitted resumes to County Mayor Greg Lynch’s offices in the hopes of filling the vacancy.

The five to submit resumes were Wilcox, Kenneth S. Calain, Franklin W. Cooke, James A. McLellan and Jonathan Clint Miller.

Commissioner Bridget Peters, who represents the county’s 3rd District, nominated Wilcox, and fellow 3rd District Commissioner John Mosley nominated McLellan. After Commissioner Kenneth Garland, Walter Garland’s brother, nominated Cooke and Calain, Mosley also nominated Miller.

“I think all five ought to have a chance,” Kenneth Garland said.

A roll call vote was taken, with each of the eight commissioners present providing the name of the candidate they wished to fill the vacancy. The first candidate to receive five votes – the majority of the Unicoi County Commission – was to earn the appointment.

Along with Peters, commissioners Jason Harris, Kenneth Garland, Marie Rice and Gene Wilson cast votes for Wilcox. McLellan received votes from commissioners Glenn White, Loren Thomas and Mosley.

A photograph of Walter Garland, who passed away on May 27, was placed on the table at the seat on the county commission he had occupied since his election in 2014. Several commissioners commented on Garland and his service to the community prior to Wilcox’s appointment.

“It was an honor serving with Walter J. Garland on the county commission,” said Rice, who serves as chairwoman of the Unicoi County Commission. “I know that we’re all going to miss him, and we’re just going to keep his family in our prayers.”

In his invocation to open Monday’s meeting, White asked those in attendance to keep Garland’s family in their prayers.

“I enjoyed his friendship,” White said. “He reminded me of my father in a lot of ways, and he was just a fabulous, magnificent man.”

• • •

In other business, the commission approved a resolution to increase the county’s litigation tax for a judge’s salary from $30 to $35 for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

According to the resolution, Tennessee Code Annotated 16-15-5006 permits counties to impose a local litigation tax on each civil case and each criminal conviction in the county’s general sessions court in order to pay the salary supplements and adjustments for general sessions court judges.

The $35 local litigation tax will fully fund the salary and supplements for the county’s General Sessions Court judge, according to the resolution.

The commission also approved Lynch’s appointment of Kenneth Garland to the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board. Garland, who is replacing Judy King on the board, was appointed to a three-year term.

The commission also heard from Kristin Anders and Jamie Rice, co-owners of The Bramble Event Space and Venue located in downtown Erwin, regarding upcoming events organized by a local group known as RISE, which stands for Rejuvenate, Invest, Support and Energize.

Anders and Rice discussed the group’s plans to bring a farmer’s market to downtown Erwin with the aim of increasing foot traffic and boosting economic development in the area, and next month’s Erwin Elephant Revival.

Events to coincide with the Erwin Elephant Revival, which is being held prior to the 100-year anniversary of the hanging of the circus elephant Mary in Erwin and to raise funds for the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, include the “Trunk Show” antique car show on Aug. 25, the Low-Country Boil Charity Dinner on Aug. 26 and events on Aug. 27 to include a kids’ zone and parade.

Southside Volunteer Fire Department celebrates 40th anniversary with open house on July 30

From Staff Reports

Southside Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a community open house on Saturday, July 30, fro 4 to 7 p.m. at Station 1 located at 1295 Carolina Ave. in Erwin.

The department was established on March 10, 1976, by a group of concerned citizens who saw the need for fire protection for the south end of Unicoi County.

Southside invites everyone to stop by and tour the fire station and the trucks on July 30. There will also be firemen on hand to answer questions you might have and safety publications. Smokey Mountain Sideshow will be providing entertainment.

For more information, call Southside Station 1 at 743-5964.

Juvenile arrested, charged in crash leading to Padgett’s death

From Staff Reports

The juvenile driver involved in the June crash that resulted in the death of a recent Unicoi County High School graduate has been arrested and charged, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

The release states the juvenile, who was not identified, was arrested after turning himself in to the WCSO on Monday after charges of vehicular homicide, underage consumption, curfew violation and aggravated assault by recklessness were filed in Washington County Juvenile Court.

According to the WCSO, the juvenile was transported to the Upper East Tennessee Juvenile Regional Detention Center and will be arraigned this Wednesday in Washington County Juvenile Court.

Ashlie Padgett, an 18-year-old May graduate of UCHS, died as a result of a June 10 single-vehicle crash. According to the Johnson City Press, Padgett was sitting between two other people in a pickup truck when the vehicle slid off Buffalo Mountain.

According to the crash report, the crash happened as two teenagers – one of whom was Padgett – and an adult – identified as Christopher Thomas – were headed down Buffalo Mountain toward Dry Creek Road, the Press previously reported.

According to the crash report, the driver said his brakes failed on a downhill slop of Firetower Road and truck went off the right side on the roadway onto a dirt path, the Press reported. The truck struck a tree then rolled over and came to rest against another tree. The juvenile driver and Thomas were able to get out of the truck, but Padgett remained trapped inside and later died.

None in the truck were wearing seat belts, according to officials.

The crash occurred on the Washington County side of Buffalo Mountain.

Early voting begins July 15

PrintBy Brad Hicks

Early voting for the Aug. 4 state primary and county general elections will begin this Friday for Unicoi County’s registered voters.

Early voting will continue through Saturday, July 30.

Those wishing to participate in early voting will do so at the office of the Unicoi County Election Commission, located at 106 Nolichucky Ave. in Erwin. Early voting will be conducted at the office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon.

The office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property and several seats on the Unicoi County Board of Education will be decided in the county general election.

The race for Assessor of Property is unique in that no candidates will appear on the ballot and the office will be decided by a write-in vote.

Four candidates – John Day, Teresa Kinsler, Alan “Rocky” McInturff and Richard Seward – are vying for the office.

The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary and whose widower is seeking the office, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.

Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following his death, the Commission, in March, appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.

Five candidates are seeking two seats to represent the county’s 2nd District on the Board of Education. Joining incumbents Tyler Engle and Lisa White in vying for these seats are Glenn E. Fisher, Shane O’Hare and Sue Jean Wilson.

Two candidates – Ruth H. Gaines and Steve Scott – are vying to represent the county’s 3rd District by filling an unexpired term on the board.

The unexpired term is the result of the November 2014 death of Dwight Bennett, who was elected to the Board of Education in August of that year.

Scott has served on the board previously, and Gaines was appointed to the school board in January 2015 by the Unicoi County Commission to fill the seat held by Bennett until the next general election.

Voters are reminded to bring a state or federally-issued photo ID in order to vote in person. An acceptable photo ID is required for early voting and for voting on Election Day.

Acceptable forms of ID, whether current or expired, include driver licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety photo ID cards, U.S. military photo IDs, and other state or federal government photo ID cards.

College student IDs are not acceptable.

For more information on early voting, contact the Unicoi County Election Commission at 743-6521.

Hearing to decide if teens will be tried as adults

By Brad Hicks

A hearing date to determine whether the two Washington County teens charged with robbing a Flag Pond man and leading law enforcement on a pursuit that resulted in the death of a third juvenile will be tried as adults was set Monday in Unicoi County Juvenile Court.

Per an order filed Monday by the state and signed by Judge David Shults, this transfer hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 26 in Unicoi County Juvenile Court.

The order also outlines steps that must be completed for each juvenile in order for the transfer hearing to take place. This includes the preparation of a report by the Department of Children’s Services detailing the nature and extent of any prior delinquency records, the nature of any past treatments and the nature of responses to these treatments, and the possible rehabilitation of the teens if they are tried as juveniles.

The order also states that Frontier Health is to complete an evaluation of each juvenile to determine his competency to participate in court proceedings.

The teens – ages 14 and 15 – are each charged in Unicoi County with aggravated burglary, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, theft of property over $500, and theft of a vehicle over $1,000. The 15-year-old is also charged with felony evading arrest.

Bonds were also set Monday for each of the juveniles. A $60,000 corporate bond was set for the 15-year-old, and a $2,500 corporate bond was set for the 14-year-old.

According to law enforcement officials, the teens led officers on a two-county chase on June 20 which resulted in the death of 14-year-old Lacey Burton of Embreeville.

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 around 15 miles, began after the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department received the report of a robbery which had allegedly occurred on Rice Creek Road in Flag Pond.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley previously said the alleged victim, identified as Roger Briggs, was beaten, robbed and tied up in his home but was able to free himself and go to a neighbor’s home to contact 911.

It is alleged that the three juveniles were dropped off at the Rice Creek residence by an adult where they waited on Briggs to return home.

“When he returned, they grabbed him and assaulted him,” Hensley said previously. “They held him at knife point. They tied him up and placed him in a closet.”

The motive for the alleged robbery stemmed from an altercation between Briggs and his brother, which reportedly took place on June 18. Briggs reportedly owed his brother, who is the grandfather of the juvenile siblings, $100.

“They went up there to collect the debt,” Hensley said.

The teens also allegedly took the 2000 Ford Ranger owned by the victim and traveled toward Washington County. A “be-on-the-lookout alert” was issued for the vehicle. Hensley previously said officers attempted to stop the vehicle, but 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 approached the intersection of Cherokee Road and Charlie Hicks Road, the driver lost control of the truck. A crash report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol stated that control of the truck was lost as a curve was negotiated, causing the vehicle to roll several times before coming to rest on its top. Burton was ejected from the vehicle. None of the passengers were wearing seatbelts, according to the THP report. She passed away around midnight on June 21 at the Johnson City Medical Center.

Hensley said it was not until after the crash that officers learned the three subjects were teenagers. The sheriff also said officers in pursuit acted appropriately and that no officer made contact with the vehicle as control was lost.

“All these subjects were juveniles,” he said. “Of course, we did not know that at the time of the call. The call was vague on what had happened, other than that victim had been tied up and held at knife point and had been assaulted.”

At the crash scene, officers reportedly found two handguns and a large hunting knife.

No charges have been placed against the adult who dropped the juveniles off at Briggs’ residence. This individual reportedly was unaware of what the teens were planning.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Curtis said Monday charges in Washington County against the two male juveniles are pending the completion of a full report from the THP.

Attorneys Cameron Hyder and Elizabeth Jones, appointed to represent the teens, objected to the media’s presence during Monday’s hearing and the use of the juveniles’ names in any reports, as neither attorney was aware media would be present prior to the hearing. Tennessee Code Annotated 37-1-153(b) states that petitions and orders filed in juvenile court proceedings shall be open to public inspection so long as the juvenile is at least 14 years of age when the alleged act is committed and if the alleged act, if committed by an adult, would constitute several charges, including especially aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping.

Shults said this code does grant the public access to the filings, it does not specify whether the public has access to court hearings meeting this criteria. Rule 27(2) of the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure grants the public access to transfer cases involving juveniles, but Hyder said the transfer hearing would not be taking place Monday, as he needed more time to prepare and that he intended to introduce proof during Monday’s hearing during which he did not believe the media should be present. Members of the media present left the courtroom prior to the conclusion of the hearing.

Shults also issued an order at least temporarily blocking the publication of the juveniles’ names. He said a separate hearing to determine whether this information can be disseminated to the public will be held on Aug. 15.

Write-in process described for using voting machines

MicroVoteBy Brad Hicks

The race for Unicoi County Assessor of Property has created a unique situation for local voters, as the names of those seeking the office will not appear on the August general election ballot.

Instead, it will be up to voters to write – or more appropriately type – the name of their candidate of choice.

But how does one go about casting a write-in vote? According to Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey, it’s a fairly simple process.

“Honestly, it’s very simple,” she said. “I would say people, when they get done, are going to be like, ‘Oh, I thought there was going to be more to it than that.’”

On the voting machine screen, voters will see on the ballot an option for “Write-In” under the box for Assessor of Property. Voters wishing to cast a vote will need to press the button alongside the screen adjacent this option.

Once this button has been pressed, the voting screen will change. Each letter of the alphabet will be assigned a button alongside the screen. Voters will use these buttons to type in the name of the candidate for whom they wish to vote by pressing the buttons next to the desired letters of the candidate’s name.

The candidate’s name will appear in a box located in the center of the voting machine screen as the letters are selected.

Voters will also have the ability to insert spaces and make corrections by using the “Space” and “Erase” buttons, respectively.

Once the candidate’s name has been entered, the voter will press the button adjacent to the “Done” option. This will return the voter to the regular ballot screen.

The candidate name entered by the voter will now be displayed below the write-in header within the Assessor of Property section of the ballot.

If a voter wishes to cancel a write-in or enter a new candidate’s name before casting a ballot, he or she may press the “Write-In” button again. From there, the voter will be taken back to the screen allowing a candidate’s name to be entered manually.

The process will be the same whether the vote is cast during the early voting period, which begins on July 15, or the Aug. 4 election day.

Bailey said poll workers will be able to assist those experiencing any difficulty casting a write-in vote.

“They won’t be able to spell a candidate’s name, but they will certainly instruct on how to do a write-in,” she said.

Four candidates – John Day, Teresa Kinsler, Alan “Rocky” McInturff and Richard Seward – are seeking the office of county Property Assessor.

The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary and whose widower is seeking the office, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.

Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following Peterson’s death, the Commission in March appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.

Depending on voter turnout and the number of voters casting write-in votes, Aug. 4 could be a long evening for local election officials due to the scale of the write-in race.

Bailey said the result tape printed from voting machines will be used to provide the total write-in votes from a precinct, but it will be up to the Election Commission’s four-member Absentee and Write-In Counting Board to review the votes cast and tally the number of write-in votes each candidate has received.

“Let’s say on this machine there were 100 (write-in votes). What they’re going to do is go down there and tally up, this candidate got 20 of those, this candidate got 30 of those, this candidate got 40 and this candidate got 10 or whatever the case may be,” Bailey said. “They’ll have to parse out who the votes were for and, of course, they’ll have to throw out any votes that are ‘Mickey Mouse’ or ‘Nobody’ or whatever the case may be and determine which are legitimate write-ins and which are not.”

The counting board will meet early on Aug. 4 to get started on early voting totals, Bailey said. To help expedite the tallying process, election officials are hopeful that around 60 percent of the county’s voters will participate in early voting.

“The more that vote early, the quicker we will have a total, just because they can work on that throughout election day, whereas precinct votes, they won’t be able to even start those until the precincts close and get the supplies back here,” Bailey said.

For the small percentage of voters who request a ballot by mail or use a paper ballot, Bailey said a flyer will be included allowing them to cast a write-in vote in the Assessor of Property race.

Bailey also said the August general election typically sees a lower turnout than other elections. A total of 4,073 voters – 2,164 during early voting and 1,909 on election day – cast ballots in the county’s August 2012 general election. A total of 3,300 voters voted in the August 2014 election. These ranges represent a 35-40 percent voter turnout, Bailey said.

Election Commission chooses acceptable names for write-in votes

By Brad Hicks

Mistakes will happen.

Because the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property will be decided by a write-in vote in the August general election, there is a high likelihood that some voters may misspell the name of their candidate of choice. Others may write in only a first or last name. Still others may simply enter the initials of the candidate they have selected.

On Thursday, the Unicoi County Election Commission took action to determine what will be considered an acceptable vote and what will not, as the panel created a list of approved name variations for the write-in candidates seeking the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property.

Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey opened Thursday’s discussion by covering with the commission information she received during a training session with the state Coordinator of Elections. According to information provided by Bailey, if the write-in candidate’s name is misspelled, the voter’s intent must be honored. If the voter’s intent – who he or she wished to vote for – can be “reasonably ascertained” despite the misspelling, the election commission must give effect to that voter’s intention.

And Bailey said local election officials are anticipating misspellings.

“We’ve had write-ins before, but never on this scale because there’s always been certified candidates who are on the ballot,” Bailey said. “As you can see on the sample ballot, it simply says, ‘No Candidate Qualified,’ and the only option under Assessor of Property is write-in. So we know we’ll have a whole lot more write-ins this time, and I think the more we can do to sort of set our guidelines on the front end, will decrease any questions or concerns or issues later on.”

The Unicoi County Election Commission’s counting board, a four-member board made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, will be responsible for reviewing the tapes printed out from voting machines to see what voters have written and make sure that the voter has placed the write-in under the Assessor of Property box on the ballot.

“That is the only office that has certified write-in candidates and then, of course, (the counting board) is going to look at the name,” Bailey said prior to the Election Commission’s Thursday vote. “They will have paper tally sheets, and they’ll be tallying those names. What they need from you all is guidance on what is an appropriate name, what’s not an appropriate name.”

Bailey said the key, according to information provided by the state, is a write-in candidate’s last name. She said if a voter writes in the candidate’s first name only or a first name with a last name initial, this will not count as a vote.

“They can’t count that if someone just writes in a first name,” Bailey said. “However, there’s a lot of wiggle room in first and last names, especially the last names.”

Although their names will not appear on the Aug. 4 ballot, four candidates – John Day, Teresa Kinsler, Alan “Rocky” McInturff and Richard Seward – are seeking the office of Unicoi County Assessor of Property.

Bailey presented the commission with a list of variations that would count as votes for each candidate.

For Day, acceptable variations will include Johnny Day, John Daye, J. Day, Jon Day, John Dae, Johnnie Day, Day and the last name spelling of Da. At Day’s suggestion, last name spellings of Dai, Daie and Diaz were also added to the acceptable variations list.

For Kinsler, acceptable variations will include Teresa Kinser, Teresa Kinslre, Terry Kinsler, Kinsler, Theresa Kinsler, Teresa Kensler, Teresa Cinsler and T. Kinsler. At Kinsler’s suggestion, the last name variation of Kinsley was added to the list.

Acceptable variations for McInturff will include Rocky McInnturff, Alan McInturff, McInturff, Rocky McInturf, Rocky MacInturff, R. McInturff, J. McInturff, J.A. McInturff and J. Alan McInturff.

For Seward, acceptable variations will include Richard Sewerd, Rick Seward, Rich Seward, Seward, Richard Steward, Richard Sewart, Ricky Seward and R. Seward. The last name variation Stewart was also added to the list.

Both Bailey and Election Commission Chairman Thomas Reeves emphasized that even if a candidate’s last name is misspelled, the last name must be written in for the vote to count.

“We want to be clear that first names do not count or any variation of a first name with a last initial or just initials for a candidate,” Bailey said.

Variations not countable as votes for Day will include John D., Jon D., Johnny D., Johnnie D., John, Jon, Johnny, Johnnie and J.D. For Kinsler, unacceptable variations will include Teresa K., Theresa K., Teresa, Theresa, Terry and T.K. Unacceptable variations for McInturff will include Rocky M., Alan M., Allen, Rocky, Alan and R.M. Variations not countable for Seward will include Richard S., Rich S., Rick S., Ricky S., R.S., Richard, Rick, Ricky and Rich.

The list approved by the Unicoi County Election Commission on Thursday is not the “end all, be all,” as the counting board does have discretion in determining whether variations not on the approved list will count as votes for a particular candidate, Bailey said. She said if the counting board comes across a variation not on the list approved Thursday, that board can vote to accept the variation as a “reasonable vote” for a candidate. She said poll workers can explain the write-in process to voters but cannot provide candidate names or correct spellings. Bailey also said she would check with the state to see if a list of those seeking the Assessor of Property office could be displayed around polling places.

“It’s important that we focus on the intent – that’s the key word – of the voter,” Reeves said.

The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary and whose widower is seeking the office, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.

Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following his death, the Commission in March appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.

Remains of local POW to return home after 70 years

By Brad Hicks

More than 70 years after his death in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, the family of U.S. Army Air Force Pvt. Evans Overbey will finally lay to rest the fallen soldier and the community will have the opportunity to honor the young man who perished in service to his country.

Overbey’s remains will be returned to the region early next week, days before a public tribute to be held in Erwin and his interment in the Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City.

Overbey was born on May 25, 1917, in Wise County, Va, according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency. He was a member of the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group when the U.S. entered World War II. In October 1941, the squadron was deployed from New Mexico to Clark Field in the Pampanga Providence in the Philippines.

Within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands and attacked Clark Field. This destroyed nearly all of the U.S. bombers at the base and resulted in more than 150 American casualties.

Overbey survived this attack and, like other survivors with the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, joined with American and Filipino infantry during the Battle of Bataan. But, following their April 1942 surrender, thousands of U.S. and Filipino soldiers became Japanese POWs.

The captive soldiers were forced by the Japanese to endure what would become known as the “Bataan Death March,” a more than 60-mile trek to Japanese POW camps on the island of Luzon, Philippines. It is estimated that more than 70,000 American and Filipino captives were forced to march.

Overbey was among those forced to make this trek.

Overbey, according to reports, died of pellagra on Nov. 19, 1942, while in the Japanese-operated Cabanatuan prison camp. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 12 other U.S. servicemen and one U.S. civilian also died on the same date as a result of malnutrition and medical neglect while at the Cabanatuan POW camp.

The 13 who died on Nov. 19, 1942, were buried in Common Grave 717 in the camp’s cemetery. This mass grave would serve as Overbey’s resting place for several years, but not his final one.

Following WWII, officials with the American Graves Registration Service, from late 1945 through early 1946, exhumed the Cabanatuan cemetery, relocating discovered remains to a temporary U.S. military cemetery established near Manila. By early 1946, most of the deceased from the O’Dell and Cabanatuan camps were relocated to the temporary site.

Throughout late 1947 and early 1948, the AGRS re-exhumed the remains from the temporary cemetery. The remains were transferred to a mausoleum, and it was the AGRS’s goal to identify each individual.

But this would not prove easy. According to the Defense MIA/POW Accounting Agency, the Cabanatuan Cabanatuan camp did not initially allow the erection of grave markers and remains were not organized in the often shallow graves. The cemetery was also situated in an area with a high water table. On top of this, the “chaotic manner in which the remains had been buried, exhumed, reburied, and re-exhumed resulted in a level of commingling that could not be resolved given the forensic science techniques available at the time.”

Those remains that could not be identified were reburied as Unknown Remains at the American Battle Monuments Commission cemetery at Fort McKinley in Manila, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Among the remains interred there were 10 individuals buried in Common Grave 717.

The Secretary of the Army in 2014 gave permission for these 10 graves to be exhumed. Extensive DNA testing was performed on the remains which led to one set of bones being identified as Overbey.

The military was able to track down his living relatives, which included his niece Grace Erwin, a resident of Erwin. His other living relatives include his great-nephews Phillip and Larry Erwin, who are Erwin’s sons, and great-niece Tammy Anderson, the daughter of Overbey’s nephew Ray Taylor.

Now that he had been identified, it was up to Overbey’s next-of-kin to select a funeral home for his interment. Overbey’s living relatives contacted Valley Funeral Home in Erwin.

“I’ve known this family for many years and worked with them several times, and they gave us a call, probably, two months ago,” said Valley Funeral Home Manager Michael Peterson. “We had met with the family and military personnel subsequently, and we’ve been working on the details for the service since then.”

Overbey was officially accounted for last month, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Peterson said it is an “overwhelming honor” to have a part in laying Overbey to rest.

“I feel it’s a tremendous honor that the family has reached out to us as we bring him back and reunite him with family, so to speak, that we could be a part of this,” Peterson said. “This family basically represents his mother, his father and brothers that he may have had that weren’t afforded this opportunity.”

Those wishing to honor Overbey may visit Valley Funeral Home on July 14 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s more of an open house time that people in the community can come by to learn some about Pvt. Overbey, sign the register book and be there to pay tribute,” Peterson said.

On the afternoon of July 15, a graveside service will be held at the Mountain Home National Cemetery where Overbey will be interred. Peterson said Overbey’s living relatives will be present as his remains are buried, adding that Overbey also has other relatives interred in the Mountain Home cemetery.

It is not yet known whether Overbey’s remains will be transported from Hawaii to Tri-Cities Regional Airport or flown in to McGhee Tyson Airport in the Knoxville area or whether his remains will arrive Monday or Tuesday. Regardless of airport, Overbey’s remains will be brought to Erwin. Once more information becomes known, Peterson said he would like to see the community gather to give Overbey a well-deserved welcome home.

“I think it would be wonderful if our community would line Main Street from Exit 26 up here, coming in to Erwin, all the way down to Valley Funeral Home and just welcome him here,” Peterson said.

Peterson also said Overbey’s return is special, as many servicemen never made it back.

“I want to encourage our community to come together and honor his return,” Peterson said. “I think he represents a lot of other individuals that have not been able to do this.”

Peterson said more information on Overbey’s service can be found on the Valley Funeral Home Facebook page or on its website at valleyfuneralhome.net.

Crash during pursuit kills teen

By Keeli Parkey

One of the three Washington County teens involved in a wreck during a pursuit on Monday, 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.

“All these subjects were juveniles,” he said. “Of course, we did not know that at the time of the call. The call was vague on what had happened, other than that the victim had been tied up and held at knife point and had been assaulted.”

Hensley said he believed the officers in pursuit, which also included an Erwin police officer and, later, Washington County deputies, acted appropriately.

“They went by the book,” he added. “All of it is on video. We have witnesses to the crash. They lost control of the vehicle and rolled the vehicle several times. None of the officers’ vehicles made contact with that vehicle whatsoever.”

At the crash scene, officers reportedly found two handguns and a large hunting knife.

During the investigation into the robbery, Hensley said officers learned an adult had dropped the juveniles off at the Rice Creek residence where they waited on the victim, identified as Roger Briggs, 58, to return home.

“When he returned, they grabbed him and assaulted him,” Hensley said. “They held him at knife point. They tied him up and placed him in a closet.”

Bungee cords and a belt were used to bind Briggs, according to the sheriff.

The motive for the alleged robbery stemmed from an altercation between Briggs and his brother, which reportedly took place on Saturday, June 18. Briggs reportedly owed his brother, who is the grandfather of the siblings, $100.

“They went up there to collect the debt,” Hensley said.

Briggs was taken to JCMC on June 20 and was in serious condition. He did receive serious injuries, according to Hensley. “They beat him,” Hensley said. “He had blunt-force trauma to his head and about his body.”

He was listed in stable condition on June 21.

The trio reportedly stole Briggs’ truck, as well as chainsaws, and fled the scene after the reported assault.

The UCSD is expected to charge the juveniles with especially aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, theft of a vehicle over $1,000, theft over $500 and evading arrest. Charges by the THP are pending, according to its report.

No charges have been placed against the person who dropped the juveniles at Briggs’ residence. The driver reportedly had no idea what the juveniles were planning.

The male juveniles were being held in the Juvenile Detention Center in Johnson City.
They were scheduled to appear in juvenile court in Washington County on Wednesday, June 22.

County mourns teen’s passing

Ashlie Padgett received her diploma from UCHS last month.  She was also the school’s athlete of the year. (File photo)

Ashlie Padgett received her diploma from UCHS last month. She was also the school’s athlete of the year. (File photo)

From Staff Reports

An auto accident during the morning hours of Friday, June 10, has 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.

“On behalf of the entire school system, I want to extend our thoughts and prayers to Ashlie’s family and friends. We will support them anyway we can.”

Kerri King, who coached Padgett on the Lady Blue Devil basketball team, remembers Padgett for her dedication to her friends and teammates.

“Ashlie’s physical attributes were obvious; she was gorgeous, smart and extremely athletic,” King said. “However, her more genuine gifts were her commitment to her teammates, loyalty to her friends, protectiveness of her sister, adoration for children and an ability to connect with people of any age.

“I was her coach, but I know she was my true friend.”

A Go Fund Me campaign is underway to raise financial support for her family. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com and search “Prayers for Ashlie.” Corner Grill in Erwin donated a portion of its sales from Tuesday, June 14, to the family. Other businesses are collecting funds as well.

English said counselors were available at UCHS on Tuesday for students who wished to gather there.

The accident is reportedly under investigation by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators could not be reached for comment prior to The Erwin Record’s press deadline for the June 15 issue

.

ETSU Response website activated to assist victims of Orlando attack

From Staff Reports

Early Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire at an Orlando nightclub, leaving 50 people dead, including the shooter, and dozens injured. East Tennessee State University has activated its ETSU Response website to provide information on how to support victims of the attack at the Pulse Orlando club.

The website, www.etsu.edu/response, provides a link to the Equity Florida website for those who wish to contribute online. It also provides links to three local blood donation organizations and to support services for ETSU students and employees who may have been affected by this disaster.

In addition, the website gives details on the candlelight vigil planned Monday, June 13, at 8 p.m. at Founders Park, 74 Wilson Ave., Johnson City, sponsored by the Pride Community Center of the Tri-Cities.

The ETSU Response website has been used several times in the past to give individuals a way to provide assistance for victims of disasters both near and far, including the April earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan, the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the tornadoes in Greene County and tsunami in Japan in 2011, and the Millercrest Apartments fire in Johnson City and earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

For more information, call the ETSU Office of Student Affairs at 439-4210.

Ledford retires as 911 director, committee appoints interim

Patsy Ledford waves goodbye as she retires after 23 years of work with Unicoi County. Ledford was presented a plaque last Friday during a reception in her honor. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keith Whitson)

Patsy Ledford waves goodbye as she retires after 23 years of work with Unicoi County. Ledford was presented a plaque last Friday during a reception in her honor. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keith Whitson)

By Curtis Carden

The Unicoi County 911 committee addressed the vacancy created by 911 Director Patsy Ledford’s retirement during a regularly scheduled meeting held Wednesday, June 1, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

Ledford retired from her position on Friday, June 3, 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 every 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.”

Applicants will be interviewed by the emergency services’ personnel committee in the coming weeks. The committee is hoping to have a director in place by July 1, but until then, Tilson told members that it would be in the best interest of the committee to appoint an interim director, from the committee, until a new director is in place to assist with day-to-day activities.

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.”

Adams will be the interim director for 30 days, effective from the meeting date, and work alongside 911’s three supervisors as the transition is underway.

“I appreciate your confidence in me,” Adams said.

•••

In other business, the board decided to take a wait-and-see approach following their previous recommendation of putting a guardrail at the roadway that runs along the 911 and UCSD offices on Jackson Love Highway.

Ceremony honors those who served

By Curtis Carden

Rev. Rusty Wishon was the guest speaker for Sunday’s Memorial Day service at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

Rev. Rusty Wishon was the guest speaker for Sunday’s Memorial Day service at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

“We cannot allow Memorial Day to lose its meaning.”

These passionate words from Rev. Rusty Wishon of Fishery Community Church summed up the thoughts of many during a Memorial Day service hosted by the town of Erwin at the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Park on Sunday, May 29.

Wishon, who served over 25 years in the military, was the guest speaker for the event and gave thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom.

“Sacrifice is a necessary condition to have freedom,” Wishon said. “We have freedom to say and do whatever we want, thanks to those who gave their lives. It is our job to live our lives in a way to honor those who sacrificed for us.”

During his speech, Wishon shared the story of Master Sergeant Ned Lyle, from Erwin, who was honored with the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in the Korean War.

“Master Sergeant Lyle distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Mundung-ni, Korea, on 26 Aug. 1951,” Wishon read from a report issued of the Military Times’ Hall of Valor website. “On that date, Company F was subjected to a devastating barrage of enemy mortar and artillery fire and was forced to begin a limited withdrawal. In this action two platoon leaders became casualties and Sergeant Lyle promptly took charge of both platoons. He rapidly reorganized the men in order to meet the oncoming enemy, who now began to subject them to a heavy volume of fire. When the close proximity of the numerically superior hostile troops threatened the small friendly force with annihilation, Sergeant Lyle, with utter disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself to the enemy fire in order to draw it away from the wounded.”

Wishon continued the story, describing of Lyle’s “deadly accurate fire” that helped back up the enemy and of his successful use of a machine gun post with his bayonet.

That’s just one of the many stories that come from war, Wishon said.

“That’s a Unicoi County man,” he added. “There’s many here today who would do the same thing that Mr. Lyle did. I’m proud to be from an area like Unicoi County, where we can spend the day honoring our veterans.”

Allen Foster and members of Fishery Community Church also brought attendants to their feet with a rendition of “Proud to be an American.”

While Sunday was a time for remembering those who passed away, veteran Ray Tipton paid homage to soldiers who are currently missing in action’ (M.I.A.) by giving a speech. During Tipton’s speech, local veteran Charles King placed a commemorative mat on the chair of the park’s MIA memorial.

The honor guard, led by Captain Ron Arnold with the Erwin Police Department, provided a gun salute, the playing of trumpets and raised the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Bill Hensley, who chairs the county’s veterans committee, gave thanks for the support for the park from community members.

County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes provided the closing remarks at the event.

Service members who lost their lives during duty have their name featured on a monument in the center of the roofing at the park. The Mary Patton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a special red, white and blue wreath beside this piece during Sunday’s event.

In honor of Memorial Day, The Erwin Record would like to remember those who gave their life by recognizing each name included on the monument:

• World War I: Garrett Edwards, Hobert Harris, Lina McCurry, William M. Moore, James H. Price, John Green, William A. Jones, Paul Masters, Douglas Penland and James W. Teague.

• World War II: Harm K. Adams, Robert Bailey, Charles B. Baxter, Bob Beam, Oscar J. Bennett, Robert L. Bennett, Bernard Chapman, Curtis D. Clark, Hubert D. Copp, Gus Cousin, Charles E. Duncan, Dallas P. Edmond, Mills Edmunds, Plen Edwards, Kelley L. Epley, Jr., Paul E. Farnor, James H. Foster, William T. Gilbert, Dwight L. Guinn, Woodward Harris, Elmer C. Harvey, Donald Hensley, Luther E. Hensley, Orville F. Hensley, Fred B. Howell, Howard W. Hurt, Howard Huskins, Bruce Johnson, Dwight L. Keever, Donald C. Keplinger, William A. Ledford, Robert E. Martin, Harley G. Masters, Deanah R. McCurry, Ralph C. McIntosh, Reid C. McInturff, Thomas S. McInturff, Joseph P. McLaughlin, Johnie J. Meadows, Robert N. Moon, Rufus S. Moore, Jr., Lee R. Morgan, James R. Nichols, William F. Niemeyer, Ivan A. Osborne, Glen W. Pack, Milliard F. Parsley, Jr., Clark Peterson, Hugh P. Prince, Lester L. Pulley, Walter L. Rice, Jr., Earl D. Ryburn, Simon P. Shelton, Clarence C. Stockton, Eugene H. Street, James E. Strickland, Jr., Leonard W. Taylor, Carroll B. Tilson, Roy C. Tinker, Lattie Tipton, Jack M. Turner, Edward M. Vogel, Hugh L. Waldrop, Marvin L. Williams, Paul Williams, Jack Wilson, Ralph Wilson and Clyde R. Wishon.

• Korean War: Lewis Ray Callahan, Vernon C. Hardin, Albert C. May, Cecil Poore.

• Vietnam War: Richard W. Bannister, James J. Britt, Donald R. Cook, David L. Edney, Donald L. Grubb, Bobby G. Haynes, Doyle Holcomb, Douglas L. Jones, Johnny W. Ogle, Bobby J. Shelton, Michael Tolley, Allen E. White and Eugene Wilson.

• County soldiers who passed away during service in the Middle East were Mark O. Edwards, who served in Iraq, and Benjamin D. White, who served in Afghanistan.

Commissioner, former sheriff passes away

By Keeli Parkey

Walter Garland

Walter Garland

Walter Garland, a well-known Unicoi County public servant, passed away on Friday, May 27. He was 81. A memorial service for Garland was held on Tuesday, May 31, at Rock Creek Presbyterian Church.

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. He was the son of the late Howard and Margaret Garland.

“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.”

In his spare time, Garland enjoyed woodworking and playing golf. He also worked as a partner of Clarence’s Drive-In in Unicoi before retirement.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a sister, Frances Louise, according to his obituary. Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Betty Haun Garland; a son, Mark Garland of Unicoi; one daughter, Teresa Collins and husband Jerry of Unicoi; one grandson, Jabies Collins of Erwin; three sisters, Ruby Peake and husband Gene, Dolly Bailey and husband Kyle, Shirley Brinkley and husband, Bill; two brothers, Kenneth Garland and wife Barbara, Ronnie Garland and wife Karen; and several nieces and nephews.

Republicans opt not to place candidate on ballot

The Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee met on May 28 and decided not to place a candidate on the Aug. 4 ballot in the race for assessor of property. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee met on May 28 and decided not to place a candidate on the Aug. 4 ballot in the race for assessor of property. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

There will 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 Saturday, 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 run as write-in candidates.

The committee includes Debbie Tittle, Terry Haynes, Mitzi Bowen, Lynn Woodruff, Kent Harris, Sarah Sellars and Jim Buchanan, who chairs the committee.

At the start of the meeting, Buchanan reviewed the events which brought the group together on Saturday. Buchanan read from a letter sent in March by Mark Goins, Tennessee’s coordinator of elections to Sarah Bailey, Unicoi County’s administrator of elections.

“It has been brought to my attention that due to the untimely passing away of Ms. Margaret Shelton Seward, the winning candidate for the Republican Party in the office of Assessor of Property, will not move forward to the Aug. 4, 2016 election,” Buchanan read. “The question now posed is what options are available to the Republican Party under these circumstances?

“Briefly stated, when a party candidate dies, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-204(a) allows the party who has lost its candidate to make a new nomination by any method of nomination authorized by Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203. According to Tenn. Code Ann. §2-13-203(a)(1), political parties may nominate candidates ‘by any method authorized under the rules of the party or by primary election under this title’.”

Buchanan went on to quote from Goins’ letter, stating that state law “does not require” the party to nominate a candidate for the ballot.

“Realize that, (whether the party nominates a candidate or not), Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-133(i) allows a person to file a certificate of write-in candidacy …” Buchanan read.

Buchanan also referenced a letter sent to him in March from Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party.

“While TNGOP bylaws are silent on the exact process for filling a vacancy, a precedent has been set for vacancies to be filled by a meeting of the county executive board where a simple majority vote shall be required to fill the vacancy in question,” Buchanan read. “Under these auspices, the county executive board shall meet as the county primary board.

“While nominations from within the executive board are admissible, any potential candidates must meet the bona fide Republican standards laid out in Article IX, Section 1 of the Bylaws and Rules of the Tennessee Republican Party.”

Buchanan then shared the vote tallies in the assessor’s race during the March 1 county primary. According to Buchanan, Seward, who passed away the morning of the primary,  received 1,570 votes (48.12 percent); Wayne Peterson, who passed away in February, received 560 votes (17.16 percent); and Rocky McInturff received 1,116 votes (34.20 percent).

Buchanan then opened the floor for the members of the Executive Committee for discussion.

Debbie 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.

At the start of Saturday’s meeting, the committee observed a moment of silence in remembrance of Peterson and Seward, as well as Unicoi County Commissioner Walter Garland who passed away the previous day.

• • •

Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of the previous assessor Patsy Bennett.

Following Peterson’s death, the Commission appointed Teresa Kinsler as the interim assessor of property at its March meeting. Kinsler has filed papers to appear as a write-in candidate for the position on the Aug. 4 ballot.

McInturff told The Erwin Record following Saturday’s meeting that he plans to run a write-in campaign.

The deadline for individuals to file a certificate for write-in candidacy is noon on June 15.

MSHA chooses architect, builder for new hospital

By Keeli Parkey

A new hospital for Unicoi County is one step closer to reality.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, May 24, 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 Tuesday.

In March, The Erwin Record reported that MSHA announced a reduction of services offered at both the current and future UCMH.

“While planning for construction of the new hospital, research by the hospital’s visioning committee revealed that there are only a total of six to seven surgical cases per day performed on Unicoi County residents in every hospital in the region,” MSHA Corporate Director of Communications Teresa Hicks said at the time. “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 City 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.

“In order to sustain optimal quality of a surgical program, it is necessary to perform significantly more cases than UCMH can support,” she added. “Without the volume, it is difficult to sustain the core competencies of the staff. This would not be the right thing to do for our patients, particularly since higher volume programs are available nearby.”

The new UCMH, according to MSHA, will include: Inpatient beds; beds for observation services (for patients who do not need inpatient level of care); physician office space; full service emergency department with telemedicine connectivity to Niswonger Children’s Hospital; standard and advanced diagnostics, including nuclear medicine, stress testing, and CT; a chest pain center; laboratory; and physical therapy.

“We want this to be a great hospital that fits the needs of the community,” Carroll also said. “We want it to be as safe, efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. At the same time, it’s a beautiful setting so we want it to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s going to be something our community can be proud of.”

In the coming months, according to Carroll, the hospital’s administration, board and visioning committee will utilize input from each UCMH department to finalize the design of the new facility.

Class of 2016 joins ranks of Blue Devil alumni

The 100th commencement in the history of Unicoi County High School was held on Monday, May 23, in the school’s gymnasium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The 100th commencement in the history of Unicoi County High School was held on Monday, May 23, in the school’s gymnasium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

A milestone in the lives of the members of the Unicoi County High School class of 2016 coincided with a landmark in the county’s history.

As the seniors celebrated graduation from high school, the school celebrated its 100th commencement ceremony on Monday, May 23. In recognition of this anniversary, senior Noah Wagner presented a brief history of Erwin High.

“I know you came here today to graduate without having to sit through any more lessons,” Wagner said to his classmates, “but I want to give you a history lesson of this school. … In 1916, the county purchased the Unaka Academy boarding school to open a high school, middle school and an elementary school. Grades one through 12 were all in the same school.”

Wagner said the Unaka Academy was located near where Gentry Stadium stands today.

“In 1922, the first football team took to the field and we played Washington College,” he continued. “We beat them 84-0. … The following year, we played Greeneville High School and we beat them 120-0. …

“With a thriving economy and a growing population, we outgrew that school and a new high school, located where the middle school is now, was built in 1929.”

Seventy years later, Wagner said, another new high school was needed. This building, which is the current home of UCHS, opened to students in 1999.

“There has been 100 years of history, 100 years of students and 100 years of change,” he added, “but, what hasn’t changed is the mission and vision of this school. The faculty and staff strive to receive scholastic excellence from the students … They strive to provide students with the necessary skills to have an impact on society. …

“When you step out of this building today, remember who you are, where you came from and the legacy you are a part of,” Wagner said. “You will always and forever be a Unicoi County Blue Devil.”

Also part of the 100th anniversary celebration, UCHS alumni from as early as 1940 were recognized by Dr. Chris Bogart, UCHS principal. Among them were: Judy Moss and George Hatcher, both of the class of 1940; Jim Crowder and Dalton Gouge, of the class of 1942; Isabell Crowder Jones of the class of 1944; Jack Jones from the class of 1946; and Nancy DeArmond Gentry of the class of 1948 and a former teacher at UCHS.

The class of 2016 also heard from Director of Schools John English during the ceremony.

“Make sure you never let anyone or anything stand in the way of you achieving what you want to achieve,” English said. “I am looking forward to watching this class in the coming years and see all that you will accomplish. …

“Just because you are officially finished with (the Unicoi County School System) tonight as a graduate, I know many of you will move forward and will not look back and we understand that. But, make sure you understand this, on your path and on your journey to wherever you’re headed, if Unicoi County Schools or myself can ever support you in any way on that path, we will. You may be finished with us, but we are never finished with you,” English continued.

Panel OKs insurance premium increase

By Curtis Carden

With a July 1 health insurance enrollment deadline looming, Unicoi County employees can expect an increase to the cost of health coverage – for the time being.

During the county’s Employee Benefits/Insurance/Policy Committee meeting on Monday, May 16, officials approved the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBST) renewal for 2016-17 and to bring it before the Unicoi County Commission for approval on Monday, May 23.

Insurance claims near the end of the recent fiscal year led to an increase of 10.8 percent in the cost of insurance for 2016-17.

“Things were steady for the start of the year,” John Manfull, with Mark III Employee Benefits and the county’s insurance broker, said. “Towards the end of the year, there were significant claims at the end of the year that brought the increase.”

BCBST offered the most competitive rates, according to Manfull.

According to information provided at the meeting, the BCBST Plan 1 for low-deductible individual plans would move from $13.57 to $69.15 a month; while the family low-deductible plans would shift from $873.43 to $1,018.22 monthly.

For Plan 2, for high-deductible plans, individual plans would remain at no cost; while family plans would bump up from $510.30 to $656.12 a month.

Manfull told everyone in attendance that the county is currently capped at paying $520 for employee premiums, but could vote to increase that payment to help defer the cost from employees.

A spreadsheet at the meeting showed three different options:

• Option 1 featured the county not increasing the $520, which would not increase the amount paid by the county.

• Option 2 considered increasing the amount paid for employee premiums to $540, which would lower the potential cost of individual coverage to $49.15 and trimming the family coverage to $636.12. Option 2 would cost the county an extra $25,440.

• Option 3 would include the county paying $550 for individual low- and high-deductible coverage, while paying $595 for family coverage. Option 3 would cost an extra $40,860.

“We’re not going to know how much money we have until the books close in June,” Commissioner Gene Wilson said about the county potentially paying more for employees’ coverage.

“We want to do what we can to absorb the cost for the employees,” Commissioner Glenn White said, “but we don’t know how much money we’re going to have to do anything.”

The topic of funds being available from the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department due the department expected to receive revenue from the $650,000 projected from state inmates to help offset costs was passed along by Commissioner John Mosley. The comment was followed by White asking Sheriff Mike Hensley, who was in attendance Monday, about recent findings during a jail committee meeting mentioning the department netted only $20,000 from inmates.

“We’ve had further studies show that it’s more than what was discussed,” Hensley said. “I don’t have it with me for this meeting, but there were a lot of variables that went into place.”

Hensley added that while he didn’t envy the job of commissioners working on the budget with the shape the county is in, he said the county needs to do something for the county employees.

“I understand the financial situation we’re in, but we need to take care of our employees,” Hensley said. “I’m just speaking for my department, but I’ve lost nine good officers due to benefits. I know it would be hard for other employees to pay these increases.”

While the county is looking to potentially absorb costs, White added that if the funds aren’t available the county would either have to raise taxes or have the employees pay the increase.

“We’ve lost jobs,” Commissioner Kenneth Garland said. “We have citizens that are on social security and some that don’t even have health insurance. I was elected to take care of the taxpayers and that’s what I’m going to do. There’s not going to be a tax increase as far as I’m concerned.”

While discussing options for incentives, Manfull said that high-deductible plans could include a health savings plan for employees, which would allow the county to deposit the $520 currently for employees.

Health care has been a hot topic for the county following up the 2015-2016 budget talks. Working with a $400,000 shortfall, the county eliminated the extra premium match for family insurance. That item was put in place during the 2014-2015 budget year instead of employee pay raises.

The vote to do away with the premium match was at the end of the previous fiscal year and increased monthly premiums for the high/low deductible family insurance from less than $300 to over $850.

In a recent article by the Johnson City press documenting the last Employee Benefits/Insurance/Policy Committee meeting, it was reported that Patty Treadway, county human resources and payroll administrator, told the committee that only five or six county employees have historically carried family except for the two years that the county increased the premium match. The number increased to 18 employees while five county employees have family insurance.

Sarah Bailey, administrator of elections in the county, was on hand during Monday’s meeting. She takes part in county’s current family health coverage and added she would be impacted by the increase which could go into effect for the upcoming year.

Bailey added that the second plan offered BCBST would be a suitable option for employees with family insurance, if the right incentives were in place to have employees take the plan.

Tankersley wins national title

Nolan Tankersley, center, came away with two national championships during the annual USA Cycling Championships held over the weekend in North Carolina. Tankersley is a cyclist for ETSU and the Pro Lupus Racing Team. (Contributed photo)

Nolan Tankersley, center, came away with two national championships during the annual USA Cycling Championships held over the weekend in North Carolina. Tankersley is a cyclist for ETSU and the Pro Lupus Racing Team.
(Contributed photo)

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 days of my cycling career,” Nolan told The Erwin Record on Monday, May 16. “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.”

Nolan’s journey is one that can’t be made up. Following graduation from Unicoi County High School, Tankersley took his talents to Milligan College and aided the program by contributing to the awards won by the team.

Things didn’t stop during his time with the Buffaloes. Nolan continued his collegiate cycling career by transferring to ETSU this past year, which added an extra level of stress.

“Milligan was a recognized varsity program,” Nolan said. “Coming over to ETSU, it was more of a club team. I was put into a director position with the group, talking with teammates and other people to help grow the program. It added an extra level of pressure, but it all pays off in the end.”

Those leadership qualities and level of maturity have netted Nolan gains over the years. After taking home the Slow Ride Omnium in Johnson City in 2015, Tankersley joined Lupus Racing, a UCI Continental team, for his first year as a professional racer.

The busy attitude helped prepare Nolan for the event, he said.

“I was finishing up a race in New Mexico,” Nolan added. “I don’t want to sound egotistical, but I was feeling good after that race. I knew I was in a right spot heading into the national championships.”

Even with a burst of confidence, the day of winning the road race brought a level of anxiousness, he said.

“There’s always that bit of nervousness,” Nolan added. “You’re sitting there before the race, sizing everybody up and going through the mind games. You’re thinking about what you need to do to win.”

The road race brought its fair share of ups and downs, literally. Tankersley was able to make some headway heading into the final stretch by bursting out of the gates on a downhill slope. While discussing the race, Tankersley highlighted the accomplishments of friends Jake King and Johnny Mitchell – who ride with Liberty University and Milligan College, respectively.

But with the jockeying of position going on, Nolan saw the finish line and checked behind him to see how the competition faired.

“The rider that was behind me was checking out the field,” he said. “At that point, I knew it was do-or-die and push to the finish line.”

After the excitement from the weekend, Tankersley said that it was time for a cool down. As far as the months to come, the busy schedule kick back soon resumes.

“There will be a lot of races … a lot of them,” he added. “As far as school goes, I’m looking into heading to King University next year. It will be an experience with them being more of a varsity program. I’m excited to see what’s to come.”

Tankersley will be back racing locally when he defends his Omnium win on June 4 and 5 in Johnson City in the SweetWater IPA Omnium. The first event takes place in Elizabethton. Other races include the Mountains at the Tour of Gila in May and then the Tupelo Honey Time Trial in Erwin, which could qualify Tankersley for the Omnium at Fountain Square Criterium in Johnson City.

Camping prohibited due to bear activity

From Staff Reports

U.S. Forest Service officials at the Cherokee National Forest recently announced that camping in the Clarks Creek area of the Unaka Ranger District will be temporarily closed due to black bear activity in the area. Day-use activities including fishing, horseback riding and hiking are still permitted.

Clarks Creek is a Cherokee National Forest dispersed use area located on National Forest System Road 25 in Washington and Unicoi counties. Access to Clarks Creek is from State Route 107 approximately 13 miles east of Greeneville.

Black bears are opportunists and become habituated to areas where food and trash has been improperly discarded or stored and is easily available.

Visitors are reminded to:

  • Never feed bears or leave pet food out;
  • Never approach a bear – they are wild animals;
  • Never leave food unattended;
  • Do not discard any food scraps on the ground or in streams;
  • Store food in a vehicle or other secure place when not in use;
  • Clean up and carry trash out when departing.

More safety information is available at: http://fs.usda.gov/r8.

Keeping an area clean and free of trash and food can greatly reduce the chances of encounters with bears. Never feed bears or leave pet food out where bears have access to.  Your cooperation with these simple tips can help break the cycle of bears returning to the same area in search of human food, protecting you and the bears.

For more information about safety around bears visit the Outdoor Safety in the South website at: http://fs.usda.gov/r8

For local national forest information call the Unaka Ranger Station at 638-4109.