As we close the year of 2014, the Independent takes a look back at the top 10 stories that impacted Magoffin, most of which will influence the county for years to come.
1. Mountain Parkway Expansion
While plans have been in the works for decades to expand the Mountain Parkway, the project made leaps and bounds in progress in 2014. In September a $24 million TIGER grant was awarded to the project, which allows construction to begin on the "Restaurant Row" portion two years ahead of schedule.
The main goals of the project includes: constructing an interstate-quality road that improves mobility between Eastern Kentucky and the rest of the state; widening the entire parkway to four lanes; redesigning and reconstructing roadways, bridges and interchanges to improve safety; and extending the existing parkway to connect with U.S. 23 near Prestonsburg. Once completed, the project will close the only gap in a 400-mile, four-lane, high-speed corridor for commerce and mobility across Kentucky from Pikeville to Paducah.
By October signs were unveiled, marking the expansion and the sign that once marked the end of the Mountain Parkway was taken down.
Early last month a meeting was held at Salyersville Grade School, showcasing the maps of the expansion plans. Citizens received a virtual tour of nearly 21 miles of the Mountain Parkway, with segments in various stages of planning. Beginning stages of construction were set to begin by the end of 2014.
2. Freddy Brown identified
After being missing over a year, in April Kentucky State Police confirmed that the remains found by ginseng hunters in October 2013 had been positively identified as Freddy Brown.
KSP Trooper Jason Dials stated, "As of right now, this will remain an open death investigation and no foul play is suspected. There was no proof or sign of foul play. There were no signs of trauma, but without the entire body, that can be difficult to determine."
No further information has been released.
3. Election 2014
The election season started out heated in 2014, with incumbent Magoffin County Judge Executive Dr. Charles Hardin initially losing to Haden "H.B." Arnett by three votes. After the recanvass, which yielded no changes, a recount was held, which had Hardin winning by three votes. After a Court of Appeals ruling, Hardin was certified the winner in July.
In October incumbent school board member Carl Howard Jr. sued his competitor, Jesse Rudd II to have his name taken off the ballot, stating that he was "not a bonafide candidate." After reviewing where Rudd lived within the district maps available, as well as verifying he was registered in the correct district before the deadline, the judge dismissed the case. Rudd went on to beat Howard in the November General Election.
In the General Election, Hardin came out ahead of his opponent, John Montgomery, by 28 votes. Incumbents PVA Jerry Swiney, County Attorney Greg Allen, County Surveyor Kerry Howard, County Clerk Renee Shepherd, Sheriff Carson Montgomery, Jailer Bryan Montgomery, and Coroner Mark Jenkins all secured their positions for another term. The fiscal court changed by one magistrate, with Gary "Rooster" Risner, Pernell "Buck" Lemaster and Matthew Wireman, along with Hardin, composing the fiscal court starting in 2015. James Rudd, Fonzie Howard, and Joe Bailey won the constable positions. Dallas Patrick, Calvin Johnson and Avavan Arnett will sit on the Soil and Water Conservation Board. In the city races, Mayor James "Pete" Shepherd retained his seat, and the council winners are as follows: Tom Frazier, Tex Holbrook, Mary Ann Ward, Jeffrey D. Bailey, Tommy Bailey, and Kenneth "Poor Boy" Williams. Jesse Rudd II and Rodney Ward both beat out incumbents to secure seats on the Magoffin County School Board.
While a recanvass was held later in November, no changes were found. In early December John Montgomery filed a suit contesting the election, citing that at least 261 ballots were cast and counted for Hardin in the November 4 election allegedly violated election laws. Only preliminary hearings have been scheduled in that case to date.
All of the candidates were sworn into office by Monday, December 29.
Three fires were featured in the Independent in 2014. On April 30, three apartments were destroyed by fire in the River Bend Apartments complex on Gardner Trail. No one was injured and buildup of lint in the lint trap of the dryer was deemed the cause of the fire.
On July 8 fire crews were called to T & B Recycling on Gun Creek. No one was injured in the fire, but damage to scrap on the lot and to the Dawkins Line Rail Trail fence was reported. Workers told the fire department officials they were cutting an old grease tank when something shot out of the side and ignited.
An elderly couple escaped their home uninjured after it caught fire and later exploded. Sarah and Grady Burson, of Kel Patton Branch, off of Burning Fork, were able to exit the home before the flames reached their oxygen tanks, setting off a series of explosions. The house was a total loss by the time crews arrived.
5. Fatal Wrecks
Two fatal wrecks were reported on the Mountain Parkway in 2014, and one on U.S. 460.
On June 19, Kentucky State Police responded to single vehicle accident on the Mountain Parkway. Information obtained at the scene indicates that 24-year-old Jason Blair of Nippa, Kentucky was traveling East on the Mountain Parkway when his vehicle dropped off the roadway and overturned.
Blair was pronounced deceased at the scene by Magoffin County Coroner Mark Jenkins.
On July 14, one woman was fatally injured in a crash with a tractor-trailer on the Mountain Parkway.
Just before 11 a.m. Monday, July 14, two miles west of Salyersville, Merion Phillips, 41, of West
Liberty, was driving toward Lexington in a silver Chrysler sedan when he lost control of the vehicle,
which crossed the middle lane, hitting head-on a tractor-trailer that was "bobtailing," or driving without
a trailer, toward Salyersville. Upon impact the car spun roughly 180 degrees, hitting the truck, again, with the back end of the vehicle, then spun another 180 degrees, stopping against the guardrail.
The passenger of the sedan, Christy Mullins, 33, of Pikeville, was pronounced dead at the scene by
Magoffin County Coroner Mark Jenkins. Reportedly, she was asleep in the passenger seat and was
not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Her body was sent to the medical examiner's office for an autopsy, according to officials.
Rescue officials said Phillips referred to Mullins as his fiancé and told them the two were headed to West Liberty to a farm they owned.
Witnesses told officials the road was wet at the time of the accident and that they had seen the vehicle fishtail before completely losing control and running into the other lane. Phillips reportedly stated he was driving with cruise control.
The driver of the truck, whose name has not been released, received a minor injury to his hand and was
treated on scene. Witnesses stated the driver of the truck got all the way over against the guardrail to miss the oncoming vehicle, with the point of impact determined to be more than half way over into his lane.
6. Murder/Homicide/Manslaughter Cases
In January Gene Helton, 44, from Magoffin, was charged with murder, driving under the influence, and assault for a wreck that occurred in Johnson County in May 2013. Helton is accused of driving a coal truck while under the influence when he crashed into a pickup truck, killing 26-year old Miranda Martin on May 29, 2013.
In October he pleaded guilty to amended down charges of reckless homicide, assault second degree, and driving under the influence first offense and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Marie Minix, 42, of Falcon Road, Salyersville, was indicted on one count of first degree manslaughter, a class B felony. According to the indictment, Minix allegedly caused the death of Roy Prater.
Kentucky State Police reports officers responded Saturday, March 29 to a stabbing complaint on Falcon
Road (on Kentucky Route 40). Upon arrival, KSP Trooper Zach Haney located 43-year-old Roy Huey Prater, of Prestonsburg, deceased from a single stab wound.
According to the original arrest citation, Minix admitted she stabbed Prater, her boyfriend. Arresting Officer Tony Tackett noted on the citation that, "It was not apparent self-defense."
Currently a jury trial is scheduled for April 2015.
Daniel Hackworth was given three years, probated, for reckless homicide in connection to the 2013 death of Donnie Allen after giving an Alford Plea. The death of Donnie Allen was a tragic event made more so by the lack of witnesses or conclusive physical evidence that would shed light on the identity of his killer or the circumstances of his death. Alcohol was involved. Ballistic testing demonstrated the gun thought to be used was in fact not used in the commission of the murder. Thus, the interested parties agreed that justice would best be served in the matter by allowing Mr. Hackworth to enter a plea to Reckless Homicide pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford. Under this plea arrangement, a defendant does not admit guilt. Given the lack of conclusive evidence in this case, the interested parties believed that they would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hackworth intentionally or wantonly caused the death of Mr. Allen.
7. Notable Deaths
Charles A. Basham, 73, of Salyersville passed away on January 25, 2014 at his home. Basham was a long-time City of Salyersville City Council Member, serving for 23 years. In 2011 Basham was honored for his outstanding and dedicated service by the City Council, with then Interim Mayor James "Pete" Shepherd presenting him with a key to the city.
Jack Austin Allen, former Magoffin teacher and principal, passed away on Sunday, February 16 at his home at the age of 83. Allen was the principal of Salyersville High School before the move to the new building, as well as the first year of the Magoffin County High School in 1977, before finishing his career teaching. In addition to being a retired teacher and principal of the Magoffin County School System, Allen was also a Navy veteran of the Korean War.
Wayne Jenkins, 65, of Salyersville, passed away November 7 at his home. Wayne was a Vietnam Army Veteran and a retired school teacher and a member of the Elkfork Masonic Lodge #755 F&AM and an active member of the Salyersville D.A.V. Chapter 15.
Tim Bostic, former Salyersville mayor, passed away on December 28 at the age of 69. Bostic was from the Belfry community of Pike County but spent much of his life in Salyersville, serving two terms as mayor and running the town's newspaper, the Salyersville Independent.
8. Groundbreaking for the High School
The community gathered in July to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Magoffin County High School. The $40 million project is financially covered, with only $3 million coming from Magoffin County citizens, Holbrook said referring to the five cent tax raise. The construction of the new high school will be the first time Magoffin has ever built a school at state high school specifications, Holbrook said.
While the school is scheduled to be completed before school begins in 2016, the football complex was used this past season. In October, Hornet football captured the 2014 Class 3A, District 7 championship, defeating the visiting team, Morgan County. The Hornets, under the direction of second-year head coach Scotty McCoy, claimed the first district football title in the school's history.
9. The Pastor Pledge
In 2014 a group of local pastors threw a curveball at the election, asking all candidates to sign a "no vote-buying pledge." By holding candidates accountable, and raising awareness to the public that vote-buying is illegal and morally wrong, the group of pastors said they hope this can change the cultural attitude about morality, including within local politics.
“Vote-buying preys on the poor - not just monetarily poor, but also spiritually poor,” the pastors said. “We want to minister them, not persecute. If we can move them in any way to look at the moral values - encourage people to search their hearts and bring awareness to the importance of values and integrity - that’s what we are trying to do here. People tell me, ‘God doesn’t care who gets elected,’ but when the wicked are in power, the righteous suffer.”
While most of the candidates did sign the pledge, widespread reports are ongoing of federal investigations concerning the election. Federal officials, as protocol, cannot confirm or deny any investigations unless charges have been made.
10. Notable Court Cases
Pamela Jean Williams and Richard Dow Williams, both of Salyersville, were each charged with 10 counts of selling unregistered securities and 5 counts of fraudulent securities practices for misrepresenting or omitting material facts about a gas well investment. Each pleaded guilty in November to a recommended charge of one consolidated fraud count with restitution to the victims. Formal sentencing was set for Dec. 18.
In federal court in December 2013 Kenneth Lee Gambill and Ruth Gambill, owners of PBTHNOJJ Construction, as well as co-defendant and Morgan County Judge Executive Timothy Conley, all pleaded not guilty to charges surrounding a kickback scheme. Conley and Kenneth Gambill are charged with four counts of mail fraud and one count of theft from a program receiving federal funds. All three defendants are also charged with conspiring to launder money. In December 2014 U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove in Frankfort sentenced 73-year-old Kenneth Lee Gambill to nine months of home detention and 57-year-old Ruth Gambill to four months of home detention with two years' probation for each.
The Gambills had a construction company and were involved in a scheme with Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley to make sure the Gambills won contracts to build bridges in the county.
The Gambills pleaded guilty in July to conspiring to launder proceeds of the kickback scheme. Conley pleaded guilty to fraud in August and is to be sentenced next month.