Another year in the books! With the close of 2017, the Independent looks back at the top 10 stories we covered during the year while looking forward to all the changes to come in 2018.
1. Criminal Cases
While the majority of the main headlines have been meth-related, unfortunately, a few cases with local ties hit the front page repeatedly.
- Eric C. Conn captured in Honduras
After pleading guilty in the largest Social Security disability fraud in the nation’s history, then spending the last six months on the run, lawyer Eric C. Conn was captured in Honduras in December and extradited back to Kentucky. Conn pleaded guilty in March in the more than $550 million Social Security fraud case, then fled before his sentencing. He was sentenced in absentia to 12 years, but now could face a life sentence on more than a dozen charges that the prosecutors left in place from his original case after he fled.
Last week Conn filed a motion in federal court asking for a public defender.
- Greg Howard sentenced to three years in federal drug case
Howard, 45, of Salyersville, was sentenced to 36 months, to run concurrently with his 12-month sentence in his probation violation case. He pleaded guilty to the charge of possession with intent to distribute a quantity of pills containing hydrocodone after the U.S. stated in court documents that the government could prove law enforcement, using a confidential informant, made controlled purchases of eight oxycodone pills from Howard at his grocery/convenience store in Magoffin County on February 7, 14, 17 and 22, 2017. He said they could also prove that on March 3 law enforcement executed a search warrant at the store and seized several hundred pills, including 442 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, as well as unspecified quantities of Xanax and Neurontin.
After his incarceration, he will have six years of supervised release, running concurrently with the three years instituted for the probation violation. He was fined $100 assessment fee, though restitution was “community waived,” according to court documents.
At press time, he is currently being held at the Grayson County Jail.
2. Fatal Wrecks
- KSP investigated two separate fatal collision that occurred in Magoffin County within a few days of each other during the New Years weekend last year. On Saturday, December 31, 2016, Sara Berry was traveling westbound on the Mountain Parkway when she lost control of her 2008 Nissan Sentra, crossing into the oncoming lane and colliding with a 2013 Chevrolet pickup. Berry, 33 of Harrodsburg KY, suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.
On January 2, 2017, Thomas Clawson was traveling westbound before losing control, crossing into the oncoming lane, and striking a vehicle traveling eastbound. Clawson, 57 of Lebanon OH, was pronounced dead at the scene.
- A fatal car crash Sunday night, May 7, 2017, tragically claimed the life of high school senior, Madison Nicole Allen, 18 years old. The accident occurred on 3337 in the Gifford Community of Salyersville around 10 p.m. Madison was the only occupant in the vehicle.
- A one-vehicle accident occurred on Sunday, May 21, 2017, around 8 a.m. on KY Rt. 7. Early reports indicated that the car veered off the road and into a ditch, where it ultimately caught on fire. The victim in the fatal wreck, Robin Denise Shepherd 46, of Hueysville, was pulled from the wreckage by a passing motorist and pronounced dead at the scene by the Magoffin County coroner.
- On Wednesday, November 22, 2017, law enforcement and rescue crews were dispatched to a two-vehicle wreck that occurred approximately five miles from Salyersville on KY Rt. 40. The driver of one of the vehicles, identified as Melissa Brown, age 54, of Burton Branch (off the Left Hand Fork of Johnson Fork) in Salyersville, was air lifted to Pikeville Medical Center, where she was later pronounced deceased.
3. Notable Deaths
- Roy Jack “Todd” Preston, 89, of Salyersville, passed away on June 9, 2017. The longtime historian and former mayor of Salyersville, school board member and conservation officer, Preston was pivotal in starting the Magoffin County Founders Days, a tradition that continues in Salyersville every year through what are now called Magoffin County Heritage Days.
- Kellie Lee Miller, 76, of Royalton, passed away on August 20, 2017. Miller had served in an official capacity for 20 years of his life, serving two terms on the Magoffin County Fiscal Court as the magistrate for District 3 and three consecutive terms (from 1981 through 1992) on the Magoffin County School Board, serving as chairman for a time.
- Tom Frazier, 74, of Salyersville, passed away on September 29, 2017. Frazier, a pharmacist and local business owner by trade, had served on the Salyersville City Council for 27 years. In addition to the drug store and city council, Frazier was also one of the original members of the housing board and was instrumental in getting the Allen Drive apartments for Salyersville. He was a member of the Magoffin County Health Board, a board member of Big Sandy Healthcare, a Shriner, a JayCee, member of the Kiwanis, and a 32nd degree Mason. He was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel by former Governor Bert T. Combs in 1969.
4. Unsolved Murder Case
On the evening of June 8, 2017, KSP received a call from Magoffin County Sheriff’s Office advising a male had been found dead on Spruce Pine Road in Salyersville. KSP detectives were dispatched to the scene. The preliminary investigation indicated that the death of John Raymond Allen, 41 of Salyersville, was a homicide. Allen was sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy. To date, the incident remains under investigation by KSP, however, no arrests have been made in the case.
5. Library Under Construction
It was a long, bumpy road to get there, but the construction of the new Magoffin County Public Library began in July, with the construction end date set for August 2018. The two-story building will have the state-of-the-art technology and provide numerous services and features for the community.
6. Eclipse 2017
Salyersville slowed down to a crawl on August 21, 2017, as everyone stopped what they were doing to view the eclipse. In Salyersville, the eclipse magnitude was 93.48 percent. People were seen throughout the country wearing solar eclipse glasses and making make-shift pinhole cameras to view the historical event.
7. Budget cuts at the school level
Granted, federal and state-funded programs have definitely taken a hit in recent years, but the school system made headlines numerous times taking some big hits in 2017. The Department of Revenue decided to strike a large portion of unmined minerals from county’s property assessment, taking $194,000 out of the school board’s budget for the 2017-2018 school year (decision made after the school year began), Kentucky Retirement costs went up (increasing costs by approximately $300,000), and the governor is pushing to cut all state budgets by 17.4 percent. While they have been able to avoid any layoffs, the board did have to take the compensating tax rate in September.
8. Editor’s Favorite Feature: JUST FELT LIKE RUNNING
In one of our most popular features of the year, we interviewed local pastor, Justin Williams, about his journey to becoming healthier, as well as a staple in the community, known for running throughout Magoffin County. Williams actually flatlined in 2014, started running sporadically in 2015, then continued to increase his mileage, and now runs most mornings throughout Magoffin, booking around 100 miles a month. Make sure you check out the video and story, all online!
9. Highlands Health System merging with Appalachian Regional Healthcare
In September, the two healthcare systems announced they were merging Highlands Health facilities and services into the multi-hospital ARH system. The transaction is set to be finalized early this year.
10. The water is safe!
We’ve all heard the rumors and stories, but in December the Independent ran a story delving into the safety of the public water systems. We collected samples throughout Magoffin, had the water tested, and checked with everyone from the local to the state level on if the water is safe. By all accounts, the city water here is just as safe as any other water source in the state.