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.

Chamber announces Triple Threat

TripleThreatlogoRedFinal

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce that the 2nd Annual Nolichucky Triple Threat Obstacle Course race will take place on Saturday, Aug. 27 in Erwin. The Triple Threat, designed to challenge the most enthusiastic competitor, is the only event of its kind that begins on the churning white waters of the Nolichucky River and finishes with a trail run just steps from the acclaimed Appalachian Trail.

“With the growing popularity of obstacle course racing challenges across the country, last year the Chamber of Commerce saw a unique opportunity to coordinate the Nolichucky Triple Threat in Erwin,” said Amanda Delp, Chamber of Commerce executive director. “The Chamber’s initial vision for this event was to create a competitive adventure like no other that would utilize and showcase the county’s two major recreational anchors – the Nolichucky River and the Appalachian Trail. The phenomenal success of the event last year ensured the growth for an even larger event this year.”

The Nolichucky Triple Threat will begin at USA Raft, located at 2 Jones Branch Road, Erwin, where participants will tame the whitewaters of the Nolichucky River in the watercraft of their choice including either a raft, kayak or bellyak. Once they make the 1.5 mile trek down the Noli, they will emerge on a sandy beach shore where the timing portion of the event will begin.

Once participants cross the starting line, they will immediately enter the obstacle challenge course in which they will test their strength and agility on 18 adventurous obstacles including a sand crawl under barbed wire, water walk through, balance beam, monkey bars, tire drag and much more.

Upon completion of the obstacle course, Triple Threat participants will then begin the third segment of the event – the 5K race back to USA Raft. Racers will run on Temple Hill Road to River Road where they will race alongside the Nolichucky River for a section of the race. Then for the last steps of the race, participants will battle trail terrain where they will complete the run back to their final obstacle before crossing the finish line.

“Where agility rafts whitewater, where strength challenges obstacles and where endurance hikes mountains, the Triple Threat is the only event that keeps participants screaming ‘I will not quit, I will not fail, I will compete Nolichucky Style’,” added Delp. “Last year’s event sparked national interest and we are confident that this year’s event will only continue to capture more national attention and ultimately evolve into a highly sought after event attracting competitors from across the U.S.”

Registration for the Nolichucky Triple Threat is available online at www.nolitriplethreat.com. Registration is $45 per participant through July 25. Registration between July 26 and Aug. 26 is $65 and day of registration is $85.

The first 25 registered participants will receive a free “I am training for the Nolichucky Triple Threat” T-shirt. All registered participants will receive a free event completion T-shirt on race day.

For more information about the Nolichucky Triple Threat, call the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce at 743-3000 or visit the website at www.nolitriplethreat.com.

Republicans to discuss candidate for assessor on May 28

By Keeli Parkey

In a meeting notice sent to The Erwin Record and other media outlets on Thursday, May 5, the Unicoi County Republican Party announced that its Executive Committee will meet on Saturday, May 28, at 9 a.m. in the large courtroom of the Unicoi County Courthouse.

The purpose of the meeting is to address the placement of a candidate for Unicoi County Assessor of Property on the ballot in the Aug. 4 General Election.

The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary.

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

Jim Buchanan, chairman of the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee, said the meeting is open to the public.

“The public is invited to come and observe,” Buchanan said, “but, this is not a county convention. This is a meeting of the Executive Committee that will act as a primary board. It is being done according to law.”

The Executive Committee was scheduled to address the vacancy on March 19; however, that meeting was canceled after the Tennessee Republican Party expressed concerns about the process for selecting a candidate, according to Jim Buchanan, chairman of the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee.

“Brent Leatherwood (executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party) called me and advised us to cancel the meeting,” Buchanan said at the time.

Buchanan went on to say that the party was awaiting an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General regarding the composition of the Executive Committee. One issue, according to Buchanan was whether or not Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committeeman Kent Harris and Committeewoman Sarah Sellers, both of whom serve Unicoi, Washington and Carter counties, could vote on the appointment of a candidate. Buchanan said this issue has been resolved.

“We are not electing anyone,” he said. “We are choosing someone to go on the ballot for the people to elect.”

With June 15, the deadline for individuals to qualify as write-in candidates on the Aug. 4 ballot, approaching, Buchanan said he urged the state party to allow the Executive Committee to meet. The decision to move forward with the meeting was made last week, he said.

The Erwin Record previously reported that the Unicoi County Election Commission convened on March 17 and the five-member panel unanimously certified the results of the primary. The panel includes Tom Reeves, Paul Monk, Roland Bailey, Marvin Rogers and Bill Beckman.

“When someone passes away and wins, you still certify whoever the winner is that was on the ballot and it effectively, immediately becomes a vacancy at that position,” Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey said during the March 17 meeting. “If this was a general election, the vacancy would be filled by the County Commission; however, since this is a primary election, state law says the party has the right to choose the candidate.”

Election Commission members then reviewed a letter Bailey received from Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins.

This letter states: “… 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 authorized by Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203. According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203(a)(1), a political parties may nominate candidates ‘by any method authorized under the rules of the party or by primary election under this title’.”

Also according to Goins’ letter, the party is not required to nominate a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.

“If the party chooses not to exercise its rights under the statute, the ballot will indicate that no candidate has qualified for the office of Assessor of Property,” Goings writes. “Realize that, in either event, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-133 (i) allows a person to file a certificate of write-in candidacy no later than noon, prevailing time, the 50th day before the election. This deadline falls on June 15, 2016, at noon.”

• • •

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.

Safety Town course returns

By Keeli Parkey

For the third year, the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will offer Safety Town – an education program for children ages 4-8.

According to Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp, the class is an interactive and comprehensive education program that introduces awareness and preventive procedures through discussions, role playing, walks, games, songs and artwork. The curriculum being discussed will include stranger danger, internet safety, fire safety, bike safety, water safety, gun safety, drugs and poison safety and other aspects of safety. Each lesson will be adapted for appropriateness for the age being taught.

“Safety Town is a national program taught in many cities across the United States,” said Delp. “We were able to take direction from the national criteria and develop a program unique for Unicoi County, tying in aspects of importance for our young children.”

Several local organizations will work with the Chamber to offer this safety education program, including the Erwin Police Department, Erwin Fire Department, All-American Handgun School and others.

Two sessions of Safety Town will be held next month – June 7-9 and June 14-16. Both sessions will be held at Unicoi County Middle School and will last from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day.

Registration is currently open and the cost is $25 for Unicoi County residents and $30 for non-residents. Participants will receive a Safety Town T-shirt. Scholarships are available.

“We will never turn down a child if their family cannot pay,” Delp said.

Applications are available at the Chamber office on Main Avenue in downtown Erwin and online at www.unicoicounty.org. For more information, call the Chamber at 743-3000. The deadline to register is Friday, June 3.

Chamber celebrates National Travel & Tourism Week

As part of National Travel & Tourism Week, Chamber Tourism Director Dawn Edwards, left, and Executive Director Amanda Delp visited travel-related businesses in the county, including Matt Moses at USA Raft, to show their appreciation for the businesses’ efforts to bring tourists to Unicoi County. (Contributed photo)

As part of National Travel & Tourism Week, Chamber Tourism Director Dawn Edwards, left, and Executive Director Amanda Delp visited travel-related businesses in the county, including Matt Moses at USA Raft, to show their appreciation for the businesses’ efforts to bring tourists to Unicoi County.
(Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce wants you to celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week by “being a tourist in your own town.”

“This is the 33rd annual event,” Chamber Executive Director Amanda Delp told The Erwin Record. “It was established by a Congressional Resolution in 1983 to unite communities each year in celebration of what travel means to American jobs, economic growth and personal well-being. Travel generates $2.1 trillion for the U.S. economy. It is one of America’s largest industries and supports more than 15 million jobs. One in every nine American jobs depends on travel.”

Travel and tourism also have a positive impact on Unicoi County. According to numbers from the Economic Impact of Travel on Tennessee Counties Report issued in 2014, that year tourism generated $8.51 million in direct tourism expenditures, generated 70 jobs, produced $1.76 million in payroll, created $690,000 in local tax revenue and created $450,000 in state tax revenue.

Also according to the report, on an average day in 2014 tourist spending in Unicoi County generated $23,315 in daily expenditures, produced $4,821 in daily payroll, created $1,890 daily in local tax revenues and created $1,232 daily in state tax revenues.

The report also states that Unicoi County households pay $149.98 in local and state taxes because of the revenue generated by tourism.

“People don’t always realize how important tourism and travel are to the county, state and country,” Delp said. “Those are dollars coming into the community that are left in the community and we are not having to provide essential county services for. For example, when tourists come in here and leave tax dollars, we are not funding schools or other essential services for them. In the industry those are called clean dollars.”

Delp encourages county residents to “be a tourist” in their own backyards this week and every week.

“I think we sometimes take for granted all we have here,” she said. “Visitors come in from all over the country and they are just in awe of our mountains, our streams, our river and our trails. When they come here, they automatically fall in love with Unicoi County.

“We encourage everyone to spend time being a tourist in your own community. Get out and experience what people from all over the country are coming to experience. Take a rafting trip, hike, mountain bike, ride an ATV, visit downtown and more.”

Also part of the Chamber’s activities for National Travel & Tourism Week, Delp and Tourism Director Dawn Edwards visited some of the county’s tourism-related businesses and delivered a small token of their appreciation to them.

At the state level, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development celebrated National Travel & Tourism Week and launched the “SEE TennesSEE More Clearly” campaign at the 14 welcome centers across the state.

The initiative offers an added gesture of hospitality for Tennessee guests as tourism industry partners wash their windshields, symbolizing the opportunity to view the state’s expansive scenic beauty, a press release from the state reported.

TBI: Simpson added to Top Ten Most Wanted list

Carlie Trent

Carlie Trent

Gary Simpson

Gary Simpson

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has a new addition to the state’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, Gary Simpson.

Simpson is wanted by the Rogersville Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for Especially Aggravated Kidnapping. According to a press release from the TBI, on May 4, Simpson reportedly kidnapped 9-year-old Carlie Marie Trent from school. Simpson has no custodial rights to Carlie, and the TBI believes that Carlie is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

Simpson was last seen driving a white 2002 Dodge conversion van with Tennessee tag 173 GPS. The van has a dark stripe down the middle with light gold running boards and paint chipping off the hood. The direction of travel is unknown.

Warrants are on file with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office. Simpson is the suspect of the AMBER Alert that is currently issued for Carlie Marie Trent.

Simpson, 57, is a white male with brown eyes and brown hair, which is balding. He stands 5 feet 10 and weighs approximately 157 pounds.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Gary Simpson is urged to call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND (1-800-824-3463). There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

MSHA: Learning about Zika virus, taking correct precautions important

From Staff Reports

The Zika virus outbreak has affected South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America over the last year. So should we be concerned about it in our region?

Jamie Swift, director of infection prevention at Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), recommends everyone be aware of Zika, how it might affect them and what preventive measures should be taken.

“We’re learning more about Zika every day, and we know the most significant impact of infection is seen in pregnant women,” Swift said. “However, anyone traveling to a Zika-affected area needs to speak with their healthcare provider about appropriate prevention measures.”

It’s important that females who wish to become pregnant talk to their physician if the woman or her sex partner has traveled, or is planning to travel, to a Zika-infected area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released specific guidelines around this topic.

Zika (pronounced “ZEE-kah”) is initially transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and there have been no reported mosquito-borne cases in the United States. But people who are bitten in an affected country can bring Zika back to the U.S., and the disease is also sexually transmissible.

That means there is concern about the spread of the disease as more U.S. travelers return from Zika-infected areas, MSHA reported. If they come back infected, they could spread the disease either through sex or from being bitten by mosquitoes that would then spread the virus when they bite other people. And because most people don’t experience significant symptoms, they wouldn’t realize they were infected in the first place.

It is important that everyone returning from a Zika-affected area take measures to prevent mosquito bites for at least three weeks upon their return to the U.S. That way, if someone was infected, they won’t further transmit the virus by mosquitoes.

“Symptoms are usually mild and only last a few days,” Swift said. “But Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. A lot of us have seen images of the babies born with this defect and it’s heartbreaking. So this is not something to be taken lightly.”

According to the CDC, every state in the U.S. has seen cases of Zika but all have been travel-associated. As of May 4, there had been two Zika cases in Tennessee and 13 in Virginia. North Carolina has reported 11 cases and Kentucky five.

There is no vaccine for the virus, so avoiding mosquito bites is the most important prevention method. For pregnant women, the CDC recommends avoiding travel to areas with Zika. They should also talk to their physician about steps to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent getting Zika through sex.

Here are a few facts from the CDC about Zika:

  • The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
  • The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
  • People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
  • Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Swift said Mountain States continues to stay on top of the situation.

“We’re monitoring the CDC interim guidelines daily and we’re pushing out updates to physicians, pediatric areas and family birth centers,” Swift said. “And we’re staying in close contact with the departments of health in Tennessee and Virginia. If any Zika testing is necessary, we’ll do that in coordination with our health departments and the CDC.

“As far as treatment of someone infected with Zika, at this time standard precautions are used and there’s no isolation required.”

For more information on Zika and its prevention, visit www.CDC.gov/zika.