High school’s Second Chance Breakfast program wins award

Pictured, Unicoi County Director of Schools John English, Unicoi County School Board Member Tammy Tipton, Unicoi County High School Principal Dr. Chris Bogart, Unicoi County Schools, Unicoi County High School Vice Principal Catherine Edwards, School Food Service Director Maggie Fair, Unicoi County Schools Executive Secretary Melissa McIntosh, Unicoi County High School Food Service Manager Tracy Foster, Tennessee Department of Education Healthy Schools Executive Director Lori Paisley, Unicoi County High School students Trent White, Brandolyn Thomas, Tammy Rogers, Shelby Miller, and Hannah Bowman receive the No Kid Hungry Tennessee Breakfast Champion 2019 award thanks to the successful Second Chance Breakfast program at UCHS. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On March 6, Unicoi County High School was presented with the 2019 No Kid Hungry Tennessee Breakfast Champion award thanks to its successful Second Chance Breakfast program.

The Second Chance Breakfast program at UCHS started in 2012 and it continues to give students a second chance at the most important meal of the day.

“We started in 2012 and we served roughly more than 1,500 students a month,” Unicoi County Schools School Food Service Director Maggie Fair told The Erwin Record. “The next year we moved the program out into the commons (area at the high school) and we were serving roughly more than 4,000 a month.”

By 2014, Second Chance Breakfast was serving roughly more than 7,500 students a month. “We are averaging 327 students a day and that average includes days, like snow days and senior week, when there is little to no one here, so we are doing really good,” Fair said.

Also on March 6, UCHS students and staff had a round table discussion to discuss the award-winning program and its impact on the school.

“The staff is super nice and they all know my name and ask me about my day, which means a lot,” UCHS student Brandolyn Thomas said.

The benefits of Second Chance Breakfast are easy for both the students and staff to see.

“You know some days I don’t want to wake up and eat breakfast, so to be able to come here and have the option of Second Chance Breakfast allows me to be able to get breakfast in my system, it helps me get through my day and I appreciate that,” Thomas said.

UCHS student Trent White agreed with Thomas.

“It is a great opportunity for students that may have to take their siblings to school, so they may not have time to eat,” White said. “Second Chance Breakfast allows them to get that second chance at eating breakfast and that helps them with their day.”

UCHS student Tammy Rogers also saw the benefit in the Second Chance Breakfast.

“It makes you happy,” Rogers said. “I like to eat, and I’m not always here on time.”

The program has been rewarding for the staff as well.

“It’s great to be on a first name basis with the students and to get to know them,” Unicoi County High School Food Service Manager Tracy Foster said.

It was an easy decision for the administrators to get behind the Second Chance Breakfast program.

“It was a no brainer,” Unicoi County High School Principal Dr. Chris Bogart said. “Why would schools not do this? It’s easy and so beneficial.”

Bogart elaborated on the benefits that the Second Chance Breakfast program brings to UCHS.

“We did have a bump up in the test scores since we implemented this program,” Bogart said. “It’s hard to draw a line and say that the program was the sole reason, as we were doing other things, but I am positive that it is a piece of the success. There is no instructional negative to it, only positive.”

Bogart acknowledged that the teachers saw the positive influence of the Second Chance Breakfast program as well.

“The instructional benefits far outweigh any distractions,” he added.

Bogart explained that the “old school” way of thinking that students shouldn’t have food in the class is outdated.

“If that biscuit is keeping those students from learning in your classroom, that’s a you problem, not a biscuit problem; let’s be honest,” Bogart said.

Fair followed up Dr. Bogart’s point.

“I had a veteran teacher come up to me and thank me, stating that her students are more focused and attentive, and that surprised me,” Fair said.

Erwin Outdoor Supply opens downtown

Pictured from left, Erwin Outdoor Supply owners Tyler Bevins, Brandy Bevins and Mark Lafever. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

A new business has officially opened in downtown Erwin.

Erwin Outdoor Supply, located at 113 Union St., held a soft opening event on Saturday, March 2, then officially opened its doors the following day.

During the soft opening, owners Tyler and Brandy Bevins and Mark Lafever welcomed friends and family to the newly renovated store.

“We are super excited, it’s been booming since 2 p.m.” Brandy Bevins told The Erwin Record. By 5 p.m., there were already more than 200 customers that passed through the doors.

The owners hope their store will showcase the importance of the outdoors and promote an active lifestyle. The Bevins and Lafever also hope the store will help people identify Erwin as a trail town on a larger scale.

“We want to be a place for locals and visitors,” Brandy Bevins said.

It’s estimated that more than 2 million hikers come through the area each year, according to information released by the store. The owners want to capture those hikers and be a place for them to rest, recharge and buy necessary gear.

Brandy Bevins also said that they hope to leverage their proximity to the Appalachian Trail, Rocky Fork State Park, Nolichucky River, Cherokee National Forest and other outdoor assets to help make their business more successful.

Erwin Outdoor Supply plans to host classes on basic outdoor adventures to get more people participating in outdoor recreation. The store will also rent Trek bicycles and sell Pyranha kayaks.

Erwin Outdoor Supply will offer a variety of supplies, gear, services and knowledge for outdoor lovers at every level, from beginners to experts. The store will offer everything from to-go food for hikers and gear from top outdoor brands and a community gathering place to relax and refuel.

“Erwin is doing big things,” Brandy Bevins said. “We are also looking at having live music here as well.”

On Saturday, the owners welcomed those who came to share the experience with them.

“Tyler and Brandy shared their idea with me, and I’m very thankful to be a part of this,” Lafever said. “There are so many people I would like to thank, there are too many to name, I just want to thank all you that have helped along the way.”

Lafever mentioned spending time as a child downtown while his father was working in the neighboring building for more than 30 years and what it meant to him to be here today.

“I want to thank Tyler for believing in me, and Mark as well,” Brandy Bevins said. “We all found our place. When we started we ran into a couple from Greeneville, South Carolina, and they advised that everyone needs to find a place and your business will run much more smoothly.” Bevins continued by thanking all of those who have supported them along the way.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting for Erwin Outdoor Supply is slated for Saturday, March 30. Survivor contestant Gavin Whitson, brand representatives, food trucks, giveaways and more will take place at that time.

For more updates follow Erwin Outdoor Supply on Facebook or visit them during store hours. The regular business hours for Erwin Outdoor Supply will be Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. The store will be closed on Mondays.

Town of Erwin exploring ambulance service options

The Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen is considering not entering into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The future of ambulance services in Unicoi County has been a question on the minds of local officials for many months. Currently, the county is being sued over the Unicoi County Commission’s decision to give MedicOne Medical Response the contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019 through April 2023.

For many years, the Town of Erwin has entered into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County to use the ambulance provider selected by the county to provide ambulance services to the citizens of the town. However, this could change.

On Monday, Feb. 25, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen held a work session and meeting at Town Hall to decide whether or not the town would be entering into that interlocal agreement once again.

“If we choose not to sign this interlocal agreement we have options,” Mayor Doris Hensley said.

According to Hensley, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy has offered to allow Washington County Emergency Medical Services to serve the Town of Erwin. Hensley also said that Grandy is in talks with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable to create a regional ambulance service that would be available to serve Erwin.

Hensley expressed concern about MedicOne being able to have enough EMTs to serve Erwin.

Hensley took exception to some of the wording in the contract the county has with MedicOne.

“It says here that they will have at least the minimum personnel,” Hensley said. “What is the minimum personnel and who determines the minimum?”.

Hensley also questioned the amount of time that MedicOne would have to fix a vehicle that is in need of repair.

“The contract says they have 15 days to fix it,” Hensley said.  “I thought that was a long time to have a vehicle down.”

According to Hensley’s reading of the contract, MedicOne would still make money if they are penalized when they are understaffed or underequipped.

“It says (MedicOne) will be penalized $500 when they don’t have the staff or vehicles to serve us, but the county is paying them $625 a day, they will still be making money,” Hensley said.

Some Town of Erwin officials were hesitant to abandon the idea of signing the interlocal agreement again.

“I’m a little worried going down that road with nothing in writing from Washington County,” Vice Mayor Mark Lafever said.

Lafever and Alderman Michael Baker expressed concern about the effects for Unicoi County. Hensley expressed concern for Unicoi County, but said she had to think about what was best for the municipality she serves.

“We are responsible for the citizens of Erwin,” Hensley said.

Lafever suggested tabling the BMA’s decision on the interlocal agreement to buy the town more time to get more information in writing from Washington County

The board voted unanimously to table the vote on an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance service within Erwin corporate limits. No further meetings were planned as of The Erwin Record’s press deadline, but it was announced by Hensley that they could call a special meeting once town officials have more information in writing from Washington County.

• • •

The next order of business during the regularly scheduled meeting of the BMA on Monday was to approve a rebid for the landscaping project and reconstruction at The Gathering Place as part of the Tourism Enhancement Grant.

During the Dec. 17 BMA meeting, it was announced that the lone bid for the project came in at $75,135 and was made by Earth Effects, LLC. The amount is roughly $6,000 more than the Tourism Enhancement Grant would cover. At that time, Hensley had suggested the budget be adjusted for the overage. The design was supposed to be the same as the park has looked in the past, but would consist of steel structures. The Gathering Place has been stripped down to the soil currently, but is being bid to be rebuilt to the same dimensions with more sturdy seating and an irrigation system.

According to the Town of Erwin’s City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, the project had to be sent out for rebid due to the Earth Effects reportedly not having the proper contractor license.

“Any bid that is $25,000 or greater is required to have a licensed contractor to bid on the project,” Rosenoff told The Erwin Record.

Earth Effects, LLC, is a landscaping business owned by Chase Willis and John Day. Day recently filed a lawsuit against the Unicoi County Commission and the Unicoi County Mayor’s Office over the bidding of the contract for Unicoi County’s ambulance service. The lawsuit questions, among other things, if the bidding process was competitive since there was only one bidder.

On Monday, it was announced that the town again received only one bid for the landscaping project at the Gathering Place.

“We received one bid with Horton Enterprises for $77,020,” Rosenoff said.

Lafever made a motion to approve Horton’s bid. The motion was seconded by Alderman Gary Chandler. The board voted unanimously to accept the bid from Horton Enterprises.

• • •

Also on Monday, representatives from Valley Beautiful Antique Mall and Village Treasures addressed the board to express the need to renew the $1,256.64 yearly expense to keep the current Antique District interstate signage up at exit 37 for another year.

“We get a lot of foot traffic downtown from that sign,” Valley Beautiful Antique Mall co-owner Joey Lewis said.

A motion was made by Lafever to approve the Antique District interstate sign and Chandler seconded the motion to keep the sign up. The board voted unanimously to approve the Antique District interstate sign.

Also on Monday, Lindsey Harris, PE representing S&ME, Inc, was on hand to address the board regarding the bidders for the Second Street Industrial Site Project on Monday.

The Second Street Industrial Site Project is a project that enables the property at the former Morgan Insulation site to be pad ready to attract business. King General, Inc. will be in charge of grading and drainage at the site. The $323,938.80 will be covered by the $500,000 grant that the town received from the ECD Site Development Grant. The ECD Site Development Grant required a five percent match from the town.

“We received three bids and they all had the necessary qualifications,” Harris said.

King General Inc. came in with the lowest bid at $323,938.80. Lafever made a motion to approve King General Inc.’s bid and Chandler seconded the motion. The board voted to accept King General Inc.’s bid unanimously.

Also on Monday, the board unanimously approved of closing a section of Gay Street from the corner of Main Avenue to First Tennessee Bank as part of the Unicoi County Middle School eighth grade banquet at The Bramble, Friday, May 17, from 5-11 p.m.

In the final order of business Mayor Hensley thanked all those that worked during the recent storms.

“I want to thank the police officers and firefighters who braved the weather this past weekend to serve the community,” Hensley said.

Gavin Whitson makes ‘Survivor’ debut

Unicoi County native Gavin Whitson is competing on the newest season
of Survivor. (Photo courtesy of CBS)

By Richard Rourk

For fans of the television show “Survivor,” it’s time once again to “outwit, outplay and outlast.”

For Unicoi County residents, there will be a more personal reason to tune in to the popular CBS show as Erwin resident Gavin Whitson will be a contestant on season 38 of “Survivor,” called “Edge of Extinction.”

Whitson recently spoke to The Erwin Record about his experiences and what drove him to try out for the show.

“I was probably 8 years old when I saw season one, and I knew that it could be me on the show,” Whitson said. “Once I turned 18, I started sending in audition tapes and 5 years later, I’m finally getting that chance.”

Whitson, who is the program director at the Unicoi County Family YMCA and has a background in sports, understands the importance of stamina when it comes to playing the game “Survivor.” “Sports, being outdoors with my family, and working out at the YMCA helped me prepare physically,” Whitson said.

Once Whitson received notice that he had made it onto the show he did not have long to prepare.

“I found out about a month before I left, and instead of preparing for ‘Survivor’ I was actually preparing for my wedding,” Whitson said.

Whitson and his wife Carly had to move their wedding date up so he could appear on the show.

“Instead of learning how to start a fire, I was moving furniture,” Whitson said.

The Whitsons were able to go on their honeymoon two weeks after Gavin returned.

“I’m not sure I was ready to travel to a tropical paradise again, but that is what we did,” Whitson said. “I’m joking, it was great; it’s exactly what I needed.”

The one thing Whitson wasn’t prepared for was dealing with being away from family and loved ones.

“I got married two days before leaving for the show, and being away from my family was a shock to my system,” Whitson said. “Whenever I got back it made me more appreciative of my family because I didn’t realize the support system I had until I lost that.”

The “Survivor” experience for Whitson was life-changing.

“Everyone should have a chance to experience it,” he said. “You come out a better person and you appreciate what you have.”

Whitson said he was humbled by the experience and hopes that he can help other kids achieve their dreams.

“I got lucky,” he said. “I was at the right place at the right time, and if I can turn other kids into ‘Survivor’ fans that would be the greatest thing about the experience.”

Whitson was quick to say “thank you” to those who have made him who he is.

“I would like to thank my wife, Carly, for making this happen, and my mother, father, and brother who are my support system, and also my papaw who is very excited,” Whitson said. “The (Unicoi County) Chamber of Commerce has been amazing as well in supporting me.”

For the latest updates of Whitson and his time on “Survivor,” please follow TeamGavin on Facebook. If you see Whitson, he cannot give out details about the show due to contract restrictions.

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will host a viewing party for the “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Unicoi County High School auditorium. The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a pre-show party including games, food trucks and other activities. Whitson will be on hand for photos and autographs and Team Gavin merchandise will be available for sale. The show will be broadcast at 8 p.m. The event is open to the public. Admission and games are free.

“Survivor: Edge of Extinction” will air weekly on CBS starting Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.

Erwin Great Outdoors Festival returning in May

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, pictured, approved the 2019 Erwin Great Outdoors Festival during a meeting on Feb. 11. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen met to discuss several topics on Monday, Feb. 11, at Erwin Town Hall.

The board approved the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival to be held on Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4. To prepare for the festival, Union Street will be shut down around noon on Friday, May 3, to allow for set up to begin.

A motion to approve hosting the festival again was made by Alderwoman Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz and was seconded by Alderman Michael Baker. The board voted unanimously to approve the festival and the festival dates.

“This year Erwin Outdoor Supply wanted to sponsor a Friday night kick off to be added to the festival,” Town of Erwin Communications Director Jamie Rice told The Erwin Record.

The Friday night festival will include a soundstage set up in the parking lot of the former Mountain Commerce Bank and a chili cookoff. The events on Friday, May 3, will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will run to about 9:30 p.m.

Saturday’s events will kick off at 6:30 a.m. and run to about 5 p.m. This year the Town of Erwin Great Outdoors Festival will partner with the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce in bringing the Chamber’s Triple Threat event to the festival.

Also on Monday, the Erwin Beverage Board approved a permit beer to be served at the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival to be held on Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4, and only within the board approved designated area. The motion to approve the beer permit was made by Vice Mayor Mark Lafever and was seconded by Hyder-Shurtz. The request was approved with Baker abstaining.

The designated area will be in a tent outside of the Union Street Tap Room, which Baker owns. The designated beer garden will be outlined by a picket fence and signage. No alcoholic beverages will be allowed outside of the beer garden, according to the request.

• • •

The Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen then shifted gears to address some tweaks to area projects.

The board considered adding electrical upgrades on Union Street between the corner of North Main Avenue and Nolichucky Avenue in the amount of $5,500. The $5,500 would be for three electrical posts to be added to the side streets for festivals.

According to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, there are funds in the current capital that could be used for this project. The electrical towers are quoted at $1,700 each.

Vice Mayor Lafever questioned if it would be more cost effective to get all six posts that are needed long term at once or if the board should go with the three electric towers that were included in the bid.

A motion was made by Hyder-Shurtz and seconded by Baker to table the request until the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting to allow Rice more time to get more information. The board voted unanimously to table the item until next meeting.

Also during the meeting, the board approved to add irrigation to the Gathering Place Tourism Enhancement Grant Project in the amount of $4,750.

“We have the funds available under our current year’s capital to fund this and would keep the area beautified and lower the maintenance and labor costs on the back end,” Rosenoff said. The motion to approve was made by Alderman Gary Chandler and seconded by Hyder-Shurtz. The board unanimously approved adding the irrigation system.

Moving on, the board approved the purchase of a Robotic Ridgerunner Slope Mower (CMI Equipment Sales – NJPA Cooperative Purchasing) in the amount of $44,216.15 and for this purchase to be included with the Bond Series 2018 Loan. The Bond Series 2018 Loan is in reference to the loan that the Town of Erwin received from the City of Clarksville. The loan was approved during a September Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. The funds were allocated for this purchase, as well as other public works projects.

“Public works and the street department strongly recommended this purchase to cut down on safety concerns and labor,” Rosenoff said.

The motion to approve came from Chandler and was seconded by Baker. The motion carried by a unanimous vote.

“These are key pieces to help forward this department,” Lafever said. “We have to look to build long term.”

The board received two bids for the property located at 1112 Seventh Street. The first bid was for $1,575 and the second was for $10,000 with a contingency pending approval by the Erwin Board of Zoning and Appeals. The issue is that the land is unique in size and shape and it would be difficult to build a home on the location. The bidder wishes to put a manufactured home on the site and have the home facing Seventh Street. The manufactured home would be a three-bedroom, and two-bath home.

“My intent is to put a home there for my daughter and her child,” bidder Johnny Tipton Sr. said.

The board asked Rosenoff what he would recommend.

“I would recommend the $10,000 bid contingent on the variance request be approved,” Rosenoff said.

The motion to approve the $10,000 bid contingent on the variance request was made by Chander and was seconded by Baker. The board voted unanimously to approve.

If the Erwin Board of Zoning Appeals denies the variance request of placing a manufactured home on the property, the property could go out for bid again. The Erwin Board of Zoning and Appeals meets later this month.

In closing, the Erwin Beverage Board named Gary Edwards chairman of the Erwin Beverage Board. The nomination came from Chandler and was seconded by Lafever. The board then voted unanimously to name Edwards chairman of the Erwin Beverage Board.

Day sues county, officials over ambulance service contract

By Richard Rourk

On Wednesday, Jan. 30, John Day filed a lawsuit against Unicoi County, the office of Unicoi County mayor and the Unicoi County Commission challenging the county’s recent decision to award MedicOne Medical Response, Inc. a contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019 to April 2023.

“The lawsuit is not punitive toward the mayor and commissioners or seeks any damages from them,” Day said. “It simply is a mechanism that will allow the commissioners to rebid the ambulance service contract in a manner that meets state law and without fear of a lawsuit by MedicOne.”

Day, a former Unicoi County mayoral candidate and leader of a group of citizens who have expressed concerns over the process that led to MedicOne receiving the contract, is representing himself in the suit. He filed an amended complaint with the Chancery Court for State of Tennessee First Judicial District, Unicoi County on Monday, Feb. 4.

The new contract with the company includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000.

The Unicoi County Commission voted to approve the bid and contract during its Dec. 17, 2018, meeting on a 6-2 vote. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

Joining commissioners Jamie Harris and Mosley in voting to approve a new contract with MedicOne were commissioners Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix and Matthew Rice. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no on the contract. Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife Cathy Thomas is an employee of MedicOne, abstained from voting.

In the weeks that followed the December approval of the contract, Day encouraged the Unicoi County Commission to reconsider the decision, citing issues with the bidding process and contract status.

The MedicOne contract came before the commission again on Jan. 28. During that meeting, Wilcox made a motion for the panel to reconsider awarding the contract to MedicOne and put the contract out for bid again. That motion, however, failed on a 5-3 vote as only Wilcox, Jason Harris and Marie Rice voted in favor. White, Matthew Rice, Mosley, Jamie Harris and Stephen Hendrix voted against Wilcox’s motion. Thomas again abstained.

Also during that meeting, White expressed concern over a possible lawsuit MedicOne could file against the county for breach of contract that could cost $900,000.

• • •

According to Day’s amended complaint, he is “challenging the legality of the expenditure of public funds for a county ambulance service contract” the defendants awarded to MedicOne. The complaint also states that the contract was awarded “through the employment of an unlawful … ‘competitive bid’ process from May 11, 2018, through Jan. 28, 2019.”

The amended complaint also alleges that there are issues with the bid process that led to Medic -One receiving the contract with the county in both 2015 and 2018. The amended complaint alleges that companies had only 15 days to submit bids in 2015 and that MedicOne, which was already serving in the county, was the only company to bid at that time. The company was later awarded a new contract for the years 2015-19.

According to the amended complaint, county officials began discussing bids for a new ambulance service contract in March 2018. The following month, the complaint states, Lifeguard Ambulance Services and American Medical Response (AMR) expressed interest in bidding on the new contract.

“From May 11, 2018, through the end of the defendants County Commission’s regular meeting on Dec. 17, 2018, when they voted to award the new contract to MedicOne, (Thomas) failed to ever inform the other defendants that managers at Lifeguard and AMR still wanted to bid on the contract,” the amended complaint states.

“I filed separate federal and state actions against Loren Thomas for his interference with the ambulance service bidding process by withholding information regarding companies who had requested RFPs (request for proposals) in 2018, but did not receive them,” Day told The Erwin Record.

The complaint also alleges that neither Lifeguard nor AMR received the RFP from the county that was issued on May 11, 2018.

“In fact, MedicOne was the only ambulance service provider, who wanted to bid on the contract, to receive an RFP and the only one who submitted a bid on June 10, 2018,” the amended complaint states.

The lawsuit also alleges that during its years of service in Unicoi County, MedicOne has been “cited for dozens of contract violations, including, but not limited to, poor staffing and poor response times that likely resulted in at least three deaths.”

Day also discusses MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves’ status as an auxiliary officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department from 2011-17 in the complaint. Day states that Reeves has given “expensive equipment” to the department at no cost.

Thomas is listed as an auxiliary deputy in the amended complaint, which also states that he “receives a personal financial benefit via his wife’s salary from MedicOne.” Day’s complaint also states that Thomas opposed MedicOne receiving a contract with the county in February 2015.

The issue of whether or not the contract Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Reeves signed is the final contract or a draft copy is also raised by Day in his amended complaint. On Dec. 14, according to the complaint, Evely forwarded a “marked up copy of the contract” to Reeves.

“As of the date of this filing, (Evely) contends that he was not signing the ‘final contract’ by signing that marked up copy on Dec. 19, 2018 …” the amended complaint states.

Day requests in the amended complaint that the contract awarded to MedicOne by the county in December be voided and that “any and all contracts in any state” be rescinded. He is also seeking court costs and any other relief to which he could be entitled.

Evely did not wish to comment due to the pending investigation.

Thomas did provide a comment, saying: “Due to the pending lawsuit and specific accusations towards me from Mr. Day, I cannot say much at this time other than I believe the current commission and mayor has acted in good faith and according to the laws and made the best decisions we could considering the bidding process debacle that the previous commission chaired by Marie Rice left us in,” Thomas told The Erwin Record.

County Commission decides to stay with MedicOne

Pictured from left, commissioners Todd Wilcox, Marie Rice and Jason Harris were the only members of the Unicoi County Commission to vote in favor of reconsidering the contract the county agreed to with MedicOne for ambulance services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

MedicOne will continue to provide ambulance services to Unicoi County in the coming years.

During a meeting of the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, Jan. 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse, the panel voted to move forward with its contract with the company that was originally agreed upon in December 2018.

That decision did not come without opposition.

During Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Todd Wilcox, who recently stepped down as the panel’s vice chair, made a motion to reconsider the decision to give MedicOne the contract to provide ambulance services in Unicoi County from April 2019 through April 2023.

“We looked at the bidding process and it was done incorrectly, and I have a problem with that,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox stated he wanted to do right by the citizens of Unicoi County.

“At the end of the day I work for you, the citizens,” Wilcox said.

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed with Wilcox and seconded his motion to reconsider the contract. She questioned if the signed contract was a draft or a valid contract with MedicOne.

“I have a problem saying this is a final contract,” Rice said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White said he was conflicted on the issue, but decided he did not want to risk a potential lawsuit if the county would be in breach of contract. Some believed that taking the contract away from MedicOne could prompt the company to file a lawsuit against the county. That could have led to a $900,000 penalty.

“I agree with commissioners Todd Wilcox and Marie Rice, but there is an opinion that this is a valid contract,” White said. “That’s my hold up, a possible lawsuit. We don’t have the money for that and it would cost our taxpayers.”

John Day, a former county mayoral candidate who has led the opposition to having MedicOne provide ambulance services to the county, addressed the commission on Monday and assured them that the contract was not valid and if the county was taken to court, it would be a “slam dunk case” for the county attorney. Day also addressed the concern over losing MedicOne staff. “You heard Mr. (Christopher Blach) from (American Medical Response) AMR ask why he would go out looking for a new staff, when he has one right here,” Day said.

Day brought AMR to Unicoi County as a possible ambulance service provider.

Unicoi County Commissioner Matthew Rice addressed Day’s concerns.

“You are saying that these individuals here in MedicOne shirts would be retained by another ambulance service,” Matthew Rice said. “So what you are asking us to do is to gamble with a lawsuit to get the same staff, just with another ambulance service.”

Wilcox’s motion to reconsider the contract with MedicOne failed on a 5-3 vote. Wilcox, Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voting to reconsider. Commissioners Glenn White, Matthew Rice, Stephen Hendrix, Jamie Harris and John Mosley voted against the motion. Chairman Loren Thomas abstained.

The failed motion essentially kept MedicOne as the county’s ambulance service provider, according to terms of the contract beginning in April 2019.

• • •

The commission moved on with filling the recently vacated vice chairman seat. Commissioner Jamie Harris was voted in and is the new vice chair following a 5-4 vote. Making the recommendation and voting for Jamie Harris was Mosley. Mosley was joined by commissioners White, Hendrix, Jamie Harris and Thomas. Opposing the recommendation were Wilcox, Marie Rice, Matthew Rice and Jason Harris.

The commission also approved to update the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse in a 7-2 vote. A motion was made by Jamie Harris and was seconded by Mosley to accept an upgrade to install a 65-inch television for presentations in the conference room of the Unicoi County Courthouse.

The projected cost is $687 and included all the installation equipment. Joining Vice Chairman Harris and Mosley in voting to approve the upgrades were White, Wilcox, Hendrix, Matthew Rice, and Thomas. Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed the upgrade.

In the final order of business, the commission approved an updated website proposal that will cost $131 dollars annually for licensing purposes. Students at East Tennessee State University will be working with the county to set up the new web pages. The motion was made by Vice Chairman Harris and was seconded by Marie Rice. The commission voted unanimously to approve the joint project with ETSU.

Also on Monday, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stood up and said a few words in regards to Unicoi County Finance Director Phyllis Bennett, who is retiring.

“I hate to see Mrs. Bennett go,” Evely said. “She has been a valuable asset.”

No ambulance decision yet

Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox resigned as the panel’s vice chairman on Jan. 18. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Confusion and chaos filled the Unicoi County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 18.

The proceedings ended with Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Todd Wilcox stepping down in his position as vice chair and leaving the special called meeting. Wilcox handed his signed resignation as vice chairman of the Unicoi County Commission to Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely during the meeting. Wilcox will remain on the commission.

“I decided to write the resignation letter a few days prior to the special called meeting pending the outcome,” Wilcox told The Erwin Record.

Wilcox made a motion to reconsider the Dec. 17, 2018, vote to give MedicOne the contract to provide ambulance services for Unicoi County, but could not find a second.

“The citizens are always on my mind and providing an ambulance service to the citizens is one of the most important concerns to me,” Wilcox said.

After three calls for a second without response, the motion died. It was then that Wilcox stood up and addressed those in attendance, handed his resignation to Evely and exited the meeting.

“This was an important decision for you all, the citizens of this county, and I will not be put in this position thinking about what could happen,” Wilcox stated.

During the Dec. 17 Unicoi County Commission meeting, the commission voted to approve the bid and contract with MedicOne, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining.

The bid and contract would start in April 2019 and run until April 2023. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and County Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion during the December meeting. The vote followed the recommendation made by the Ambulance Committee during a meeting at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Dec. 14.

During the Jan. 18 meeting, there was confusion among a few of the commissioners following the death of Commissioner Wilcox’s motion.

“I want to discuss this but I do not want to break a contract, but I would like to get all the information,” Commissioner Glenn White said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Stephen Hendrix called for civility in discussing the matter further.

“I don’t have a problem with the issues being raised,” Hendrix said. “These are legitimate issues. It’s the other stuff I take issue with.”

There was concern among some that there were flaws with the contract.

“There are a lot of flaws in the contract, and there’s a lot of questions that need answers,” County Commissioner Marie Rice said.

White asked Evely to place the item on the agenda to discuss the ambulance situation further during the Jan. 28 Unicoi County Commission meeting.

“Do your research and we can discuss it then,” Commissioner Jamie Harris stated about the future meeting.

Previously, concerned citizen John Day addressed the commission to ask for more time to explore options. Day, who was a candidate for Unicoi County mayor last year, questioned the status of MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves, who was an auxiliary officer with the Unicoi Sheriff’s Department in the past and to see if it was a conflict of interest in representing MedicOne. Sheriff Mike Hensley confirmed that Reeves was with the department in the past as an auxiliary officer, but confirmed he was not a paid county employee.

“Mr. Reeves was an unpaid, auxiliary officer and was an asset to the department,” Hensley said.

Day questioned if the contract that was signed with MedicOne is a valid one or just a draft.

“We are going to find out if it’s a contract, even if I have to pay for an attorney myself,” Day stated.

After an open forum, the commission voted unanimously to adjourn, with Thomas abstaining and Wilcox absent from the vote.

The commission will have to be cautious with their next move, according to discussions last week. The county did place a notice in a local newspaper to request bids last year, and MedicOne was the only company that responded at that time. If the contract with MedicOne is considered a valid contract, the county could be considered in breach of contract, if the contract is sent back out for bid.

“If the contract is deemed valid and enforceable then we are bonded to it, so I will then take the stance to make sure that the conditions are met in the contract for both parties,” Wilcox said. “If the contract is not valid, I will request to rebid the services the correct way.”

The Unicoi County Commission will meet again on Monday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m. in the large courtroom at the Unicoi County Courthouse to discuss the ambulance situation, among other county issues.

Ambulance debate continues

Unicoi County officials, pictured, again heard opposition to MedicOne continuing as the county’s ambulance service provider during a meeting on Jan. 11 at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Ambulance service in Unicoi County once again faces uncertainty as the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 11, ended with the committee pushing for Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely to call for a special Unicoi County Commission meeting to decide if there will be a rebidding process.

Roughly 20 citizens, led by former mayoral candidate John Day, attended Thursday’s meeting to express concern over the original bidding process that ended with MedicOne receiving a new contract to provide ambulance service for the county for another four years beginning in April 2019.

The original bids were sent out prior to Evely and the new County Commission taking office. “There was a very inadequate job done sending out the request for proposals (RFP) a year ago,” Day said addressing the committee.

Day followed by attempting to get a unanimous response by the committee.

“Are we on board with saying that only one company received the RFP?” Day asked.

Evely refused to agree.

“I know it was emailed out to five companies and I do not know for sure if the other companies did not receive it or if they did receive it and declined to act,” Evely responded. “I’m not going to let you put words in my mouth.”

Todd Wilcox, who is a Unicoi County Commissioner that was not able to make the meeting due to a work conflict, did send a letter that was read by fellow commissioners. In his letter, Wilcox expressed concerns about the way the bid was handled last year. Wilcox had reached out recently to a few ambulance services that had expressed prior interest in bidding, including American Medical Response (AMR.)

AMR Vice President of Operations Chris Blach was in attendance to address the committee last week. Blach expressed interest in bidding and explained that his company could bring in many different services.

“We are 10 times larger than the next ambulance service, so we bring with us a lot of resources,” Blach said of their capabilities.

Blach also mentioned that AMR had 23 air bases statewide and held the three closest air bases near Unicoi County. The closest county to Unicoi County that AMR operates in is Knox County. AMR recently merged with Lifeguard Ambulance Services, who had also previously expressed interest in serving Unicoi County.

Commissioner Jamie Harris asked Blach if AMR was having staffing issues.

“Everyone is having staffing issues,” Blach stated.

It was previously stated by MedicOne Manager Jamie Kemp during a meeting in November 2018 that there is a shortage of paramedics.

“The big thing hurting us right now is personnel,” Kemp previously said. “It’s not just a MedicOne issue, it’s statewide.”

Also during last week’s meeting, MedicOne Operations Manager and former AMR employee Josh Logan expressed concern about the fact that competing companies already know the amount that MedicOne bid and could come in and undercut the price.

According to his letter, Wilcox asked for a special meeting to be called to reconsider the bidding process. Wilcox said he would now like to see the county commission meet to decide if the contract should go back out for bid.

A motion was made to have the called meeting by commissioner and committee member Glenn White and seconded by commissioner and committee member Marie Rice. The motion passed with commissioner and committee member John Mosley opposing.

The special called meeting of the Unicoi County Commission is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m. The meeting will take place in the large courtroom of the Unicoi County Courthouse.

• • •

In other business 911 Committee Chair Bill Hensley expressed concerns about who to call if all of MedicOne’s ambulances were on calls.

Kemp acknowledged that MedicOne could set up a mutual agreement with neighboring counties to serve overflow calls.

It was also announced by Firefighters Association President Robert Adams, that whichever company has the ambulance service contract in April will have 90 days to look for a new frequency to use. Currently, the Firefighters Association allows the ambulance service to use its frequencies.

Park renamed to honor Alexander

Rocky Fork State Park rangers unveil the new sign at the renamed Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. U.S. Senator Alexander, pictured above left, received this honor thanks to Governor Bill Haslam, pictured above right. The sign was unveiled during a ceremony held on Monday, Jan. 7. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Jan. 7, Rocky Fork State Park officially became Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park. The official unveiling took place in front of roughly 100 people who came to see the new sign.

Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely of Unicoi County, Mayor Doris Hensley of the Town of Erwin, and Mayor Johnny Lynch of the Town of Unicoi were on hand to welcome Congressman Phil Roe, Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Lamar Alexander to the event.

Excitement has spread across the county for the future of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, according to local officials.

“It’s going to be a great boom to the area,” Evely told The Erwin Record. “I can’t wait for the visitor’s center to be built up here.”

Evely wasn’t the only official that saw the importance of this day.

“I’m so excited for this,” Hensley said of the unveiling.

The excitement even spread to the north end of Unicoi County as Lynch sees an opportunity for tourism to grow.

“It’s a big day,” Johnny Lynch said of the naming of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice said she is also looking forward to the future of Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

“I’m just excited about the economic aspect and that the park is preserved,” Rice told The Erwin Record.

Roe, who is an avid hiker, acknowledged that Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park is one his favorite spots to hike.

“A hundred years from now, when no one knows we had this meeting, people are going to be able to take in the natural beauty of this area,” Roe said of the efforts of those that fought to save Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Roe also acknowledged the efforts of David Ramsey and the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park for their hard work to save the park.

Haslam surprised Alexander with Rocky Fork State Park taking on his namesake.

“Certain people are instrumental in making things happen, that’s why we are standing here today, and I want to take the opportunity to announce that Rocky Fork State Park will for hereafter be known as Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park,” Haslam said to the crowd.

Alexander said he was humbled by the announcement.

“This is a natural treasure and is one of the most beautiful spots in our country,” Alexander said of the park.

Alexander also sees a bright future for the park.

“This is Upper East Tennessee’s gateway to the Appalachian Trail and will be a signature for this area,” Alexander said.

He also thanked those that worked hard to make this day happen.

“I want to acknowledge former (Unicoi County) Mayor Greg Lynch, Marie Rice, Mayor Johnny Lynch, Mayor Bubba Evely, Mayor Doris Hensley, Dave Ramsey and all of you that have been involved with this,” Alexander said.

Alexander acknowledged that he was amazed by what those involved were able to do with the land.

“The Conservation Fund bought the property, that was $40 million, nobody else was going to do that, the government couldn’t do that, and they bought it so the people of this country can enjoy it,” Alexander said in thanking the Conservation Fund.

• • •

Switching gears, Alexander and Roe addressed concerns about the current government shutdown on Monday.

“That needs to end, I wasn’t for a shutdown under President Obama, I’m not for a shutdown under President Trump,” Alexander said. “We weren’t elected to shut the government down.”

Alexander went on further to address what needs to happen to resolve the shutdown.

“What we need to do is act like adults, and the president should sit down with the Congressional leaders and they should come to a conclusion,” Alexander stated. “There is no courage or skill in taking a position; there is courage and skill in getting a result and it’s time to show some of that.”

Roe spoke about what the furloughed government employees can expect.

“Those folks are going to get paid,” Roe said. “It’s not their fault the government shut down, it’s our fault.”

Roe went on to acknowledge the need for a speedy resolution.

“In the short term for those that are living paycheck to paycheck it’s bad, so the sooner we can get this resolved amicably, we should,” Roe said of the urgency to end the shutdown.

When asked about the possibility that President Trump will declare a state of emergency to fund the border wall, Alexander was quick to respond by calling for unity.

“If there is a priority that is legitimate, the Democratic leaders should bend over backwards to complete it, and the president should be in return reasonable, reliable and specific and if they could all sit down and show themselves to be experienced negotiators, this could end in 24 hours,” Alexander stated.

Governor Haslam would not rule out a future run for the U.S. Senate. Haslam is finishing up his term of Governor for Tennessee. Governor-elect Bill Lee will officially take Haslam’s office on Jan. 19.

“Chrissy and I are going to take time to think about it and to pray on it, it’s too important of a role to not give serious consideration to,” Haslam stated that he would decide soon on whether or not he will run.

Alexander has announced that he will be retiring at the end of his current term in 2020 and will not seek reelection.

Officials break ground on new Food City store

Town of Erwin and Unicoi County officials join representatives of Food City in the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for the new Food City store in the Town of Erwin. The company hopes to have the new store opened in approximately six months. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Wednesday, Dec. 19, the bulldozers and jackhammers stopped for a brief moment for the official groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of Food City in Erwin. Representatives from Food City, including President and CEO Steven Smith were present to break ground with representatives from Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin.

“It’s good to have you here in Unicoi County,” Unicoi County Commissioner Chairman Loren Thomas said to Smith.

The groundbreaking officially starts the clock on the opening of the roughly 44,000 square foot supermarket near Taco Bell, Bojangles’ and Pal’s in Erwin. Depending on the weather this season, the construction could be done in six months.

“We hope to have a Food City here in early summer,” Smith said.

The new store is expected to generate 140 jobs to the area.

“We have about $11.5 million dollars invested in this facility,” Smith stated.

The new store will also feature several award-winning energy saving concepts, ranging from energy efficient glass cooler doors, parking lot lights and refrigeration systems to motion sensors and 100 percent LED lighting, as well as an open rafter ceiling design.

“Our customers can expect to find the same smiling faces, top quality products and competitive pricing they have come to expect from Food City, housed in a more energy efficient model, along with some exciting new features and conveniences,” Smith stated.

According to a press release from Food City, the location will include an in-store bakery/deli, complete with a hot food bar and café seating area. Full-service meat and seafood departments will offer pre-marinated and seasoned oven ready products, plus a complete selection of top quality meats that are all-natural with no solutions added, including Certified Angus Beef.  In-house meat cutters will hand-cut steaks and fresh meat to order.

Expanded grocery, frozen food and produce departments will offer a complete selection of gourmet, international and specialty items. Rapid checkout service will be provided by six traditional checkout lanes, one express lane and four self-checkouts. For added convenience, the store will include a Food City Pharmacy, equipped with a drive-thru for greater ease in prescription services, a Food City Gas n’ Go and Go Cart curbside pick-up, which allows customers to shop online and pick-up their order when they arrive at the store.

The 140 jobs are something that Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley and Smith can agree is a huge boost for the people of Erwin and Unicoi County.

“The interesting thing about who we employ is, for a lot of folks it’s their first job, for a lot folks it’s their last job,” Smith said of the generational diversity in Food City’s workforce.

When Food City begins hiring for their store, according to Hensley, they should see a solid return on investment.

“We pride ourselves on our work ethic here, and in our school systems we try to teach that,” Hensley said of the workers of Erwin.

Food City is one of many businesses that have committed to the growth of the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County.

“I think with Food City here you are going to see a lot happening, and with the hospital you are going to start seeing more growth in the south side,” Hensley said.

The addition of Food City opens the doors for other opportunities as well.

“This offers so many opportunities for the people of Unicoi County,” Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County Executive Director Tyler Engle said of Food City opening in the summer.

Food City is part of a larger plan to bring more businesses to Erwin.

“We hope to be a catalyst to help Erwin to grow and prosper,” Smith told The Erwin Record.

The excitement for Food City was evident in the groundbreaking ceremony.

“We are so appreciative of Food City for coming to Erwin, this is the best Christmas present ever,” Hensley said of welcoming Food City to Erwin.

Food City representatives were also feeling the excitement of the collaboration between Erwin and the supermarket company.

“We want to be a good partner with Erwin and Unicoi County, we want to recognize the character of the community,” Smith told The Erwin Record.

Smith, who is from a small town that has similar demographics as Erwin, is invested in the growth of Erwin.

“I will commit to you that not only are we going to build you a fine supermarket, but our folks will be a great community partner,” Smith said. “We will invest in your nonprofits and do our part to make Erwin a great place to live and to raise children.”

County Commission chooses to stay with MedicOne

The Unicoi County Commission held its last meeting of 2018 at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 17. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Dec. 17, the Unicoi County Commission made the contract renewal with MedicOne official.

MedicOne will continue to serve Unicoi County beginning the new contract in April of 2019. The contract will run until April of 2023. The contract includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to MedicOne. The county currently pays $132,000 dollars annually under the current contract which expires in April.

The commission voted to approve the bid and contract, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

Monday’s vote followed the recommendation made by the Ambulance Committee during a meeting at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 14.

On Friday, the committee viewed a response from MedicOne to a proposed contract submitted by the county for ambulance services.

“We sent a proposed contract to representatives of MedicOne on Dec. 5,” Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stated on Dec. 14.

MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves responded back to the committee on Dec. 14, prior to the meeting with some proposed changes.

The proposed changes included removing a $2 million insurance umbrella that would cost MedicOne $63,000 in annual costs. Another change that MedicOne would like to see was a new ambulance being purchased in April 2019 and a second one to be purchased in April of 2020. MedicOne already has a 2017 ambulance currently in their fleet. This would allow the ambulance service to have three ambulances that would be in compliance of the original 5-year, 250,000-mile option in the current contract.

“We would have three frontline ambulances that should be in good shape and low mileage within the first 12 months of the new contract,” Evely told the committee.

The committee voted to continue talks with MedicOne to try and reach an agreement and discuss it at the Dec. 17 Unicoi County Commission meeting. The commission had the option of either accepting the updated contract from MedicOne at the meeting or putting the contract back out for bid. Unicoi County Attorney Douglas Shults was asked to draw up a new request for proposal just in case talks fell through with MedicOne.

The current contract for ambulance services is up in April of 2019.

“What we are concerned about is the safety of our citizens,” committee member Commissioner Glenn White said on Friday.

On Monday, commissioners Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Matthew Rice and Stephen Hendrix voted to approve a new contract with MedicOne. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no.

“I’d like to see this go out for bid,” Commissioner Jason Harris stated.

Once the vote was over Commissioner Marie Rice expressed her concerns about continuing to have MedicOne provide ambulance services to Unicoi County.

“I will refer the calls I get to the ones that voted for this, those calls are coming,” Rice said. Commissioner Jamie Harris was more hopeful for the contract renewal.

“This contract gives the commission more teeth. I’m hopeful this works out,” he told The Erwin Record.

The new contract calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12 hour shift for 7 days a week. MedicOne is currently running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract.

Thomas was optimistic about the agreement going forward.

“We are paying for more because our citizens deserve more,” Thomas told The Erwin Record about the subsidy.

•••

With the ambulance service issue taken care of, the commission moved on to revisit an item that was previously shelved.

Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Representative Troy Ebbert addressed the commission concerning a proposed bike trail that would cover roughly five miles and travel through the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi and a stretch of Unicoi County. The proposed grant was for $90,000 dollars and required 10 percent of the grant be paid by the three municipalities, to complete a study of the proposed trail.

The 10 percent would have been split between the three municipalities, costing the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi, and Unicoi County roughly $3,000 dollars each. The Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi have already agreed to pay the $3,000 dollars for the study. Commissioners Glenn White and John Mosley expressed concern over the trail study.

“I have spoken to people in that district and they do not want the trail,” Mosley stated.

The commission narrowly voted to oppose the trail study in a 5-4 vote. A motion was made to approve the study by Commissioner Matthew Rice and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Stephen Hendrix. Joining Matthew Rice and Hendrix in approving the study grant was Commissioner Jason Harris and Chairman Thomas. Voting to oppose the bid was Commissioners White, Mosley, Wilcox, Marie Rice, and Jamie Harris.

•••

In the last order of business, the commission voted unanimously to update their contract with Quillen College of Medicine, Division of Forensic Pathology to perform autopsies for Unicoi County. The current contract has a 20 autopsy yearly cap. The new contract will release the cap.

A motion was made by Commissioner Jason Harris and seconded by White. The commission voted unanimously to accept the new contract.

United Way surpasses fundraising goal

Thanks to the extra funds raised, the United Way was able to give to additional organizations. United Way Vice President David Erickson, right, presents a check to Larry Rose, a representative of the Imagination Library. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County United Way surpassed its goal of $120,000 during the most recent drive thanks to the generosity of the citizens of Unicoi County.

It was announced during the United Way Victory Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 6, that the local United Way received a total of $128,528, which will benefit 22 area organizations.

“It’s been a good year,” Unicoi County United Way Vice President David Erickson told The Erwin Record.

Clinchfield Senior Adult Center’s reception room was packed with members of the organizations that both help and are helped out by the United Way. The crowd was treated to a lunch prepared by Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz and music by the Unicoi County High School Blue Belles.

After lunch, the Development Director of Second Harvest Food Bank, Ann Rhem addressed the crowd to discuss the impact that United Way has on the community.

“The population of Unicoi County is 17,945 and of that 2,580 citizens are food deprived,” Rhem stated.

That is roughly 14.4 percent of the population of Unicoi County that could use the assistance of Second Harvest Food Bank.

Another organization on hand that United Way has been able to help is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA helps assist and represent children during court cases.

“Children can often slip through the cracks of the justice system, and we are here to help make sure that they have the same representative with them every step of the way,” Executive Director of CASA Whitney Mclaughlin said.

After recognizing the organizations in attendance and handing out special awards for those that contributed, Unicoi County United Way President Lee Brown revealed the total amount of $128,528 that was raised by the local businesses.

“This wouldn’t be possible without everyone sitting in this room, and our local industry that is committed to the United Way,” Brown said. “They are the backbone and the lifeblood of the area United Way.”

The annual United Way drive may be over, but you can always give to the United Way of Unicoi County. Donations can be mailed anytime to Unicoi County United Way, PO Box 343, Erwin, TN 37650.

Also, follow Unicoi County United Way’s Facebook page for more updates and events.

County to negotiate with MedicOne for ambulance service

The Unicoi County Commission discussed the future of the county’s ambulance service during a meeting on Monday, Nov. 26, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Commission got to work on Monday, Nov. 26, to address several issues. One issue that has been on the minds of the commission for a long time has been the county’s ambulance service.

During Monday’s meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley moved to enter negotiations with MedicOne in regards to ambulance services for the county starting in April 2019. Unicoi County Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

The plan would call for members of the Unicoi County government to negotiate terms with MedicOne, which has a contract to provide ambulance services to the county through April 2019, and if both parties agree then when the current contract is up in April, Unicoi County would retain MedicOne as it’s ambulance service.

If an agreement is not met by Dec. 14, then Unicoi County would send out a request for proposal or RFP.

“If we wait until December, what are we going to do with an RFP? Most ambulance services want 90 days notice to set up shop,” Commissioner Marie Rice inquired.

Another concern raised by Commissioner Glenn White was that the last two times the commission sent out RFPs only one ambulance service responded and that was MedicOne. Mosley responded that the proposed plan would be to have Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and County Attorney Douglas Shults talk to MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves to see if an agreement can be met. If the agreement can not be made by Friday, Dec. 14, by noon, then the commission will send out RFPs.

Members of the Commission discussed the ambulance service during a Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 21.

“There are three options on the table, stay with Medic One, re-open the bidding, or create our own ambulance service,” Mosley said during the committee meeting.

The concern for Unicoi County has been a lack of staff and equipment, which has reportedly caused issues with wait times.

“The big thing hurting us right now is personnel. It’s not just a MedicOne issue; it’s statewide,” MedicOne Manager Jamie Kemp said to the committee.

Currently, there are four job openings posted through MedicOne’s website.

“We are short two paramedic positions,” Kemp said.

Another problem that has recently affected the call load for MedicOne is the hospital moving. “Before there weren’t many calls from the UCMH Long Term Care Unit because they could transport the patients next door without calling an ambulance service, now we get more calls to transport from UCMH Long Term Care to the new hospital,” Kemp said.

Along with staffing concerns, the committee is concerned about the lack of vehicles for MedicOne.

“I think we need three ambulances,” County Commissioner and committee member Jamie Harris said. “I know it’s a lot of money and I don’t want to put it on the people, but we need it.” Only two ambulances currently serve Unicoi County.

The committee has a  decision to make going forward.

“We have to make a move on this,” County Commissioner and committee member Glenn White said.

On Monday, the proposal made by Mosley passed on a 5-3 vote with Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. Commissioners John Mosley, Glenn White, Jamie Harris, Stephen Hendrix and Todd Wilcox voted for the motion, while Jason Harris, Marie Rice and Matthew Rice voted no.

• • •

Next on the agenda, the Commission listened to citizens of Buffalo Valley as they asked the commission to sign a letter of opposition to the City of Johnson City’s streambank mitigation plan.

Speaking on behalf of Buffalo Valley was Calvin Hoyle, Steve Williams, Andy Landers, Town of Unicoi Alderwoman Kathy Bullen and former Town of Unicoi Alderman Roger Cooper.

A motion was made by White and seconded by Wilcox to send the letter.

“This affects all of Unicoi County,” Mosley said to the board.

According to the Buffalo Valley citizens, the prices for home resale values have dropped $50,000-$60,000. The board voted unanimously to send a letter of opposition to United States Army Corp of Engineers.

If you are interested in writing an opposition letter to the request made by the City of Johnson City to use the land that housed Buffalo Valley Golf Course for streambank mitigation, you can email it to ryan.evans@usace.army.mil by Nov. 30.

• • •

In other business, the Commission voted to receive a non-financial matching grant of $36,750 for signage. This grant is a shared grant for Unicoi County, the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Erwin. The only cost will be labor for this grant.

The motion to accept the grant was made by Matthew Rice and seconded by Hendrix. The motion passed unanimously.

“One of the things about tourism is we have all these wonderful places to go, but don’t have signs showing people where to go,” Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stated.

In closing, the Commission voted unanimously to accept the approval of William Todd Hopson as the new commissioner of Unicoi County Water Utility District.

Christian Care Center taking over UCMH Long Term Care

By Richard Rourk

The Long Term Care unit at the former hospital building will soon be operated by Christian Care Center. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Health Board of Control held a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Erwin Town Hall to discuss the future of the former hospital building located at 100 Greenway Circle Erwin.

While the operations of the hospital have moved to the new Unicoi County Hospital, the UCMH Long Term Care is still housed at Greenway Circle. At the meeting last week, representatives of Ballad Health, which owns and operates the county hospital, addressed the board and announced that they support Christian Care Center, LLC taking over operations of the UCMH Long Term Care facility.

It did not take the board long to make a decision. A motion was made by UCMH Board of Control member Russell Brackins to agree to lease the property to Christian Care Center; the motion was seconded by UCMH Board of Control member Gene Wilson. The motion passed unanimously for the UCMH Board of Control to lease the property to Christian Care Center. If everything goes as planned, the transition will take effect at the beginning of the year.

“Closing date is set for Jan. 1 and it will be for a 10-year lease,” UCMH Board of Control Chairman Roland Bailey told The Erwin Record.

Ballad Health President of the Southeast Market Dwayne Taylor announced that they found the perfect partner to take over operations.

“We wanted someone that focused on quality above profit, someone that would love these patients the same way we do and we know we found that partner in Christian Care Center,” Taylor said.

Christian Care Center Vice President of Client Operations Sandy Deakins addressed the board to introduce what Christian Care Center’s intentions would be with the UCMH Long Term Care facility.

“Our goal isn’t to fix what works, but to take what works and expand upon that,” Deakins said to the board.

Deakins explained Christian Care Center’s philosophy.

“We are not looking at being the biggest, just the best,” Deakins said.

Christian Care Center expressed interest in the facility and the promise that comes with it.

“We want to do what’s best for the community, as far as the building there are some real good bones to work with there,” Deakins said of the facility.

The possibility of expanding the Long Term Care unit throughout the former hospital building is on the table, according to the discussion at the meeting. One of the goals for the large facility would be to provide the option for private rooms.

“We would love to take the side the hospital was in and create private rooms and expand rehab care,” Deakins exclaimed.

Comfort was a topic expressed by Deakins.

“It’s the patients’ home, we work in their home, they don’t live at our work,” Deakins explained.

The board did inquire about several topics.

“What is your normal ratio of registered nurses and certified nursing assistants?” Brackins inquired.

Deakins acknowledged that they like to have at least one RN on board at all times.

UCMH Board of Control member Marie Rice inquired about the status of current employees at Long Term Care.

“Our goal is to get started talking about benefits with the staff and preparing interviews,” Deakins said.

Deakins addressed concerns of staff turnover.

“If it works, we want to make it continue to work, we want them to be a part of our team, and if staff chooses not to stay, Ballad Health has great opportunities for the staff as well,” Deakins explained.

Rice then asked if Christian Care Center planned on retaining the employees and Deakins answered.

“That is our goal. I’m optimistic,” Deakins said in regards to retaining the staff.

Deakins spoke with The Erwin Record following the meeting about the expansion of the Long Term Care facility.

“It could result in more jobs,” Deakins said. “It will certainly make the facility more competitive with today’s market.”

UCMH Long Term Care will be the ninth facility for Christian Care Center.

Police chief addresses school bus safety

By Richard Rourk

Within the past week several children have been struck by vehicles throughout the United States while waiting on their school buses. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, the greatest risk to a child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one. The website is full of tips on how to get children to school safely.

To help prevent accidents for drivers, when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school. When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people. Slow down and watch for children and be alert.

“Paying attention is key,” Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said.

Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic. Learn and obey the school bus laws in Tennessee, as well as the “flashing signal light system” that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off.

Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.

“It is absolutely imperative that we do not pass these buses,” Tilson told The Erwin Record.

Children should arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.

Parents should visit the bus stop and show children where to wait for the bus: at least three giant steps (six feet) away from the curb. Remind children that the bus stop is not a place to run or play.

Children may also want to wear bright colors and it may be a good idea to get a backpack that has reflective stripes.

When the school bus arrives, children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens and the driver says it’s okay before approaching the bus door. Children should use the handrails to avoid falling.

Children should never walk behind a school bus. If a child must cross the street in front of the bus, they should walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing.

Children should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see them. If a child drops something near the school bus, like a ball or book, the safest thing is for the child to tell the bus driver right away.

In a release from January 2018, NHTSA reported between 2006 and 2016, there were 216 pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes.

Among the 216 pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes, 163 were struck by school vehicles and 52 were struck by other vehicles.

Towns’ voters elect aldermen

From Staff Reports

While casting their ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 6, for U.S. Congressional representatives and governor, Town of Erwin and Town of Unicoi voters also cast their ballots for seats on their respective town boards.

Erwin voters voted for three open seats on the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. According to unofficial results from the Unicoi County Election Commission, winning those three seats were: Mark Lafever with 1,279 votes; Michael Baker with 892 votes; and Gary Chandler with 864 votes.

Also running in Erwin were: Virgil Moore with 630 votes; Stephen Wilson with 497 votes; and Timothy Shelton with 461 votes.

***

Unicoi voters cast their ballots for two open seats on the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen. According to unofficial results from the Unicoi County Election Commission, winning those two seats were: Kathy Bullen with 577 votes and Wanda Wilson-Radford with 534 votes.

Also running in Unicoi were: Roger Cooper with 486 votes; Charlene Thomas with 470 votes; and Debbie Bennett with 369 votes.

All results are unofficial until certified by the Unicoi County Election Commission. Approximately 60 percent of Unicoi County voters cast ballots in this election.

For a full story of the Nov. 6 election, pick up a copy of the Nov. 14 issue of The Erwin Record.

United Way campaign continues

By Richard Rourk

The United Way of Unicoi County is off to a solid start in its annual campaign.

“We are approaching the 50 percent mark on our goal of $120,000,” United Way spokesperson Lynnsey Seagroves told The Erwin Record.

According to Seagroves, the United Way is still waiting for all of the partners to turn in the numbers so far. One partner has turned in the funds collected and it looks promising for the future.

“Pal’s in Erwin collected donations for us from Sept. 25-Oct. 8 and collected over $310,” Seagoves said.

This is the first year that Pal’s partnered with the United Way.

“This is a new partnership this year, and we’re so thankful for their support and our community’s generosity,” Seagroves said. “Pal’s efforts are proof that spare change can make a big impact.”

There are several other partners throughout Unicoi County that are accepting donations at their checkouts. Those businesses include the Plant Palace, Keesecker’s, Steel Rails Coffee House, Roller Pharmacy, Clinchfield Pharmacy, Baker’s Shoe Repair, Valley Beautiful Antique Mall, What’s the Scoop?, Hawg-n-Dawg, CHIPs Thrift Store and the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center. “We’d love for everyone to consider donating spare change if a box is spotted while they’re out in town,” Seagroves said. 

The donations go to support more than 22 local organizations.

“Through these agencies, $380,000 in United Way donations have impacted over 10,000 lives in Unicoi County over the last three years,” Seagroves told The Erwin Record.

The agencies include Unicoi County Public Library, Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Unicoi Shoe Fund, Unicoi County YMCA, Unicoi County 4-H Club, Contact 211 Ministries, Sequoyah Council, BSA, Monroe Foundation, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children, Children’s Advocacy Center of 1st Judicial District, Manna Storehouse, CHIPS Inc, Kiwanis Shopping Tour, Heritage Museum, Unicoi County Literacy Program, Unicoi County Student Backpack Program, Unicoi County Student Dental Program, Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, Tennessee Rehabilitation Center, Erwin Little League, and the Imagination Library. If more funds than expected come in, the United Way will help more organizations.

“We usually do more than our goal to help out more organizations, sometimes we are able to help up to 25 or more organizations,” Unicoi County United Way President Lee Brown told The Erwin Record in regards to past drives.

Pal’s becoming a partner wasn’t the only new addition to this year’s drive.

“Something else that’s new this year is our weekly ‘What United Way Means to Me’ features on our Facebook page,” according to Seagroves.

“What United Way Means to Me” is a way for organizations that have been supported by United Way to state the impact of the donations received.

“We’ve asked representatives from the agencies we support to share about how they’ve seen United Way donations make a difference firsthand and continued funding from the United Way is important,” said Seagroves. 

Going forward the United Way would love to see more stories on their Facebook page.

“We’d love for our community members to follow the Unicoi County United Way Facebook page and share these stories about how funding is making a difference in Unicoi County,” said Seagroves.

The campaign, which started on Sept. 25, runs through Dec. 6. If you would like to donate but can’t make it out to one of the locations in town, donations can be mailed anytime to Unicoi County United Way, PO Box 343, Erwin, TN 37650.

“Unicoi County United Way could not support these 22 worthy organizations without the generosity and support of our community and local businesses, and for that, we thank you,” Seagroves said.

‘Monument to the region’: New Unicoi County Memorial Hospital opens doors

Members of the community walk into the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital for the first time following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday, Oct. 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Oct. 22, Unicoi County Memorial Hospital opened its doors for the first public viewing.

“We are ready,” UCMH Administrator Eric Carroll told The Erwin Record on Monday about the opening of the new facility.

The doors to the new hospital officially opened to patients on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, which preceded an open house for the public, drew quite a crowd. On hand to welcome the innovative facility was Carroll, Ballad Health President and CEO Alan Levine, Unicoi County Memorial Hospital physician Dr. Joshua Puhr, Corporate Director of Spirit and Pastoral Care for Ballad Health Gary Metcalf, and U.S. Congressman Dr. Phil Roe.

Carroll recognized past and present hospital board members, as well as government officials in attendance.

Over the last three years, the vision was laid out for the new hospital in a 10-point plan.

“Our 10 guiding principles which are reflective of this hospital are patient and family-centered, safe and efficient, economically feasible, accessible and easy to navigate, able to optimize our resources, flexible and adaptable, supportive of advanced technology, environmentally friendly, attractive to health care professionals and supportive of higher education,” Carroll said.

Carroll then recognized the Ballad Health staff and what they mean to the new hospital.

“This hospital is just a building, the real Unicoi Hospital is made up of our team members and I couldn’t be more proud,” he said.

The new hospital will employ a staff of roughly 115 individuals.

Levine opened his remarks during Monday’s ceremony by recognizing a family that lost everything to a fire recently.

“The first act of this hospital will be to donate $5,000 to that family,” Levine said.

Levine then reinforced Ballad’s commitment to Unicoi County.

“This building today is a monument to the region,” he said.

Ballad Health was faced with a dilemma when they had to decide whether to invest in a rural hospital or not.

“We had to decide if we create a new path forward with a new vision of what a rural hospital would look like or do we simply let other external influences just decide for us what we should do,” Levine explained.

The board at Ballad Health decided to invest in regionalism.

“Our board decided to invest in Unicoi, and that is why we have the hospital we have here today,” Levine said.

When taking the microphone, Roe told a story that shows how far health care has come in this area.

“In 1980 I was the 75th doctor on staff at the Johnson City Medical Center,” Roe said. “There are now over 600 doctors.”

Roe hammered home the investment that Ballad is making in Unicoi County with this new facility.

“Alabama and Tennessee have had the most rural hospital closings in the United States and to be successful you have to have a good education system, which you have here in Unicoi County, and you have to have good healthcare, which you have in this building,” Roe said.

Several local officials were in attendance at Monday’s ceremony.

“This is a very nice addition,” Chairman of the Unicoi County Commission Loren Thomas said. Former Town of Erwin Mayor Russell Brackins reflected on his time on the board and what this hospital means for Unicoi County.

“I’ve been on and off the board for the past 30 years and this is great,” Brackins told The Erwin Record.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley were also in attendance to see the opening of the hospital.

“When you see all these rural hospitals closing and you see a facility like this, it’s a boom for our community,” Evely said.

“This hospital will bring in more growth throughout the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County and it’s a great day for us,” Hensley told The Erwin Record.

Carroll addressed further what this hospital will mean for Unicoi County.

“You need high-quality health care when you are deciding on a place to live and we can give that to Unicoi County,” Carroll said.

Looking to the future Carroll explained how growth looks going forward.

“We do anticipate growth and volume in both inpatient care, but especially in our outpatient care, with our updated diagnostics,” he said.

Levine explained what Unicoi County means to Ballad Health, saying: “Ballad is a regional health system and Unicoi is a critical part of our region.”

The new UCMH is equipped to offer imaging services including, ultrasound, bone density and 3D mammography. The X-ray machine delivers digital results for both inpatient and outpatient procedures.

“I can tell you that this X-ray machine is second to none,” Roe said.

The Cannon Radiology CT Scan is capable of 160 slices per rotation. Cardiology services, including stress tests, will be available seven days a week. The new nuclear medicine area allows for heart and lung exams. The MRI machine is the first in the state of Tennessee and the first Ballad Health facility to feature virtual theater, which allows the patients to bring in their favorite movies or music to be played while they are in the MRI machine.

Wings, Ballad Health’s air ambulance service made an appearance at Monday’s event, and the crowd was entertained by both the Unicoi County High School Marching Band and the UCHS Bluegrass Band. The public was treated to catering from Hawg-N-Dawg.

The new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital is located at 2030 Temple Hill Road in Erwin and features 24-hour emergency services.

Fires destroy homes, vacant building

A fire destroyed the home on Jim Jones Road on Monday, Oct. 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Fire departments from several counties responded to a fire in the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 21, at 5949 Unicoi Drive. When they arrived on scene they found the old Wiseman’s Feed and Seed building, which had been abandoned for some time, fully engulfed.

The crews battled the fire for more than six hours due to the windy conditions. One Carter County firefighter sustained minor injuries fighting the blaze.

“He’s doing well, he’s just bruised and sprained,” Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department Deputy Chief Wes Hensley told The Erwin Record.

According to the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office Communication Director Kevin Walters, the fire is currently under investigation, therefore details are limited. There was no power to the building, so the fire more than likely wasn’t electrical.

“We haven’t had electricity in there for more than two years,” according to building owner Alyssa Hodge.

The fire could’ve been more devastating considering how close it was to a residential building, as well as Wiseman’s Clothing and Shoes.

“We are lucky that it didn’t reach Wiseman’s or our apartments up the hill, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Hodge said.

All of the firefighters that responded were able to save the surrounding buildings and for that Hodge was thankful.

“They did a great job, I just want to thank the firefighters, especially the one that was injured,” Hodge told The Erwin Record.

***

Early on Monday, Oct. 22, there was a fire at a residence on 3206 Unicoi Drive, Lot 6.

There were children involved in that fire, but no serious injuries reported. Sgt. Jacob Marshall and Deputy Cody Arnold with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department reportedly arrived to see the front porch was fully engulfed.

All four people, two adults and two children, were discovered safe outside of the fire. The sheriff’s department confirmed there were no one else in the home. The house was a total loss. “Cody Arnold and Jacob Marshall did a great job for us,” Unicoi County Investigator Harmon Duncan told The Erwin Record.

If you are interested in donating clothing to those affected by the fire the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Dispatch is accepting clothing at Family Ministries Resources Center 1119 N. Main Ave. in Erwin. The sizes for the two adults are for female 3x-4x and female 14-16 and the sizes for the two children are 6-9 months for a 5-month-old child and size 3 for a 2 and half-year-old child. A Gofundme page is being set up for financial donations.

According to Walters, this fire is currently under investigation as a possible arson case. If you have any information please contact the State Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017. The State Arson Hotline is open 24 hours a day and you may remain anonymous when providing information.

***

Also on Monday, around 10:30 a.m. firefighters responded to a fire at 524 Glenn Effler Road that destroyed a two-level house. No serious injuries were reported, but one firefighter needed medical attention for abrasions to his hands. Unfortunately, a family pet perished in the fire. Initial reports suggest this could have been a wiring issue.

Multiple firefighting units from around the area were on the scene with UVFD fighting the fire. The house was deemed a total loss.