As we change calendars, preparing for a new year, the Log Cabin staff — along with the help of our readers — have considered the many happenings of the past year and compiled the top 10 stories of 2010.
Four killed in Highway 64 road rage accident
Two men were charged with four counts of first degree murder following the deaths of four people in a Sept. 12 car accident on Highway 64 near Vilonia.
Official charges were filed by former 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Marcus Vaden against 38-year-old James Holian, of Cabot, and 29-year-old Russell Johnston, of Vilonia.
Holian is also charged with one count of failure to stop after an accident with injury or death.
According to Vaden, the incident began in Vilonia where Holian and Johnston became involved in a road rage situation that lasted seven to eight miles and culminated in Johnston’s Nissan Pathfinder crossing into oncoming traffic, striking a 2006 Ford F-150 and a 2007 Cadillac Deville.
A news release issued by Arkansas State Police said statements from witnesses indicated that the crash was a direct result of a driver pursuing a second vehicle.
Four of the five family members in the Cadillac were killed, while the fifth passenger sustained serious injuries. The driver and passenger of the F-150 suffered minor injuries.
Johnston was ejected from the vehicle and taken to the hospital for treatment.
Those killed in the accident were identified in an Arkansas State Police fatal crash summary as 35-year-old John San Felippo and 10-year-old Jersey San Felippo, of Vilonia, and 68-year-old Frank San Felippo and 66-year-old Judith San Felippo, of Sun City, Ariz.
A $500,000 bond was set Oct. 8 for Holian. His pretrial date is set for Jan. 13.
Johnston received a $100,000 bond on the condition of the installation of a GPS monitor due to injuries suffered during the accident. Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office maj. Andy Shock told the Log Cabin that Johnston’s injuries caused paralysis in his lower body.
“He requires around-the-clock care, and we don’t have staff and facilities to give him the level of health care that he needs,” Shock said.
A pretrial date has not been set for Johnston.
3 from Vilonia crew killed in medical
Three crewmembers were killed after an Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter crashed at about 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 31 near Scotland in Van Buren County.
The crew, based out of Vilonia, was en route to pick up a traffic accident victim, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said.
Pilot Kenneth Robertson, flight nurse Kenneth Meyer Jr., and flight paramedic Gayla Gregory were killed in the accident. No patients were on board the helicopter.
The cause of the accident is not known at this time. Officials with the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the crash site and began a formal investigation.
Lunsford told The Associated Press there apparently was no distress call.
“They were flying under (visual flight rules),” Lunsford said. “It doesn’t appear they were talking to any air traffic controllers at the time.”
A preliminary report on the crash says a witness reported hearing an explosion before the aircraft went down.
The NTSB report stated that a witness reported hearing an explosion then the sound of crushing or crashing metal. It also states that radar recordings indicated the helicopter turned first to the left — then to the right shortly before disappearing.
Investigators say the wreckage was broken into three pieces with the rotor assembly about 700 feet from the main wreckage and the tail rotor about 100 feet from the wreckage.
The Vilonia Air Evac base has been in operation since February 2003.
3. Man shot,
killed at CPD
A Jonesboro man was shot and killed outside the Conway Police Department on July 15 following a disturbance in the station’s Front Street parking lot.
CPD officials said Cortez Waller, 21, of Conway, was taken into custody after allegedly shooting 32-year-old Christopher Childress multiple times with a .45 caliber handgun.
According to Faulkner County Coroner Patrick Moore, Childress was pronounced dead at Conway Regional Medical Center at 1:41 p.m. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the torso. The death was ruled a homicide.
Waller ran into the police station and was arrested immediately following the incident.
According to Conway police, Childress followed Waller in his vehicle through the city and eventually to the police station.
Officials said the disturbance stemmed from a relationship between Waller and Childress’ fiancee, DeRanda Carter. Police received conflicting information as to when that relationship ended.
Waller was charged with first degree murder and aggravated assault.
He posted a $20,000 bond July 19 before his scheduled first appearance that afternoon. Prosecutors said they would have asked for a bond between $750,000 and $1 million.
Waller has a pretrial date scheduled for Jan. 20.
4. 516 earthquakes
Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 19 of 2010, Faulkner County was rocked by 516 recorded earthquakes specific to the Guy area.
According to Arkansas Geological Survey, the State of Arkansas recorded 682 for the year.
The swarm of seismic activity prompted new study sites in the county and a meeting between geologists, leaders of the gas and oil industry and area citizens.
The belief was voiced widely by area citizens that the increase in resource extraction associated with the Fayetteville Shale play in the area and the increase in earthquakes were related in some way.
At a town hall-style November meeting at Guy-Perkins School, geologists with AGS told citizens that after extensive research, the agency could find no relationship between hydraulic “fracking” and recent earthquakes.
Geologists’ findings, though inconclusive, do not exclude a relationship between area seismicity and injection wells, saltwater deposit sites that reach greater depths than extraction wells.
The agency said it would be well into 2011 before research would provide conclusive answers.
According to AGS, the largest earthquake recorded in the area in 2010 occurred on Oct. 11, two miles southeast of Guy. It was registered as a magnitude-4.0.
The City of Conway faced budgetary woes throughout 2010 after the discovery in February that its finance department had erroneously reported that the city had $3 million in its reserve fund.
Spending decisions were made based on that information, but council members later learned that those funds were designated for the sanitation department and restricted to that use.
Chief Financial Officer Robin Scott resigned, and Mayor Tab Townsell called for a financial review from an outside auditor who would work with a new audit committee composed of City Council members.
Spending decisions had been made by the council based on the erroneous reserve fund information, but at no time was money missing, city officials said.
Once that money was spent, the city had a cash flow problem, taking it to the brink of having less than a month’s cash flow.
Belts were tightened, and all departments were asked to slash their budgets.
Lowell McClanahan, a retired financial executive, accepted the position of interim chief financial officer.
He analyzed the city’s financial operation, worked with the auditors, developed a new process for budgeting and the city purchased and implemented a new financial software package.
The city was in a bind, especially when there were three paydays in a month.
Conway Corp. advanced the city money that Conway Corp. later took in for franchise fees.
Near the end of the year, the city borrowed from the sanitation department’s enterprise fund.
All of that money was repaid.
The 2011 budget was approved on Dec. 28, based on a projection of a 4 percent increase in sales tax revenues.
The $54.1 million budget is balanced but does not allow for a 10 percent reserve, and it is the third budget year without a step raise for the city’s employees.
Voters will be asked in the spring to rededicate a previously dedicated sales tax with the stated goal of adding to the city’s reserves and providing more compensation for employees.
6. Justice Dept. files suit involving CHDC
A lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against the state, claiming the Conway Human Development Center makes no effort to integrate its residents back into the community and that the residents’ civil rights are being violated by dangerous living conditions, awaits a decision from the presiding judge, which is expected this year.
CHDC provides housing, care and services for more than 500 persons with developmental disabilities.
U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes heard more than 70 witnesses in the trial, which lasted nearly six weeks. Parents and guardians of CHDC residents often filled the courtroom in the Little Rock federal building.
For several years, the U.S. Department of Justice attempted to resolve the investigation of CHDC without litigation. When those efforts proved unsuccessful, the USDJ filed the CHDC complaint on Jan. 16, 2009.
The trial began Sept. 8 with the Department of Justice using nearly three weeks to present its case, calling on mostly technical expert witnesses.
The state began presenting its case Sept. 28, relying on the testimony of family members and experts in the field of working with the developmentally disabled.
CHDC Superintendent Calvin Price was the last to appear on the stand.
Testimony ended on Oct. 15, and Holmes did not provide a time frame for his decision.
In an earlier decision on a request in April from the Department of Justice to halt new admissions to CHDC, Holmes denied the DOJ request.
“The decisions to be made are important — important enough to wait a few more months so that they can be based on all the evidence,” Holmes wrote.
Gov. Mike Beebe at the time reportedly said the judge’s refusal to bar new admissions at CHDC was a vindication of sorts for the facility.
He was quoted by the Arkansas News Bureau as saying: “The human development center in Conway is one that is really taking care of folks that have to be institutionalized, according to the medical evidence and according to the families.”
7. Local Election reflects national mood
Anti-incumbency and anti-Democrat were the moods in 2010’s November elections.
Local voters mirrored national trends, sweeping incumbents from their appointments and replacing them in most cases with the Republican candidate.
Cody Hiland, 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, ousted incumbent Marcus Vaden in a heated race for the top prosecutor job.
Hiland claimed fiscal conservatism and promised to increase the number of individuals prosecuted by his office.
Vaden’s claim to the position was his experience, having been elected as prosecuting attorney in 2007.
Faulkner County Sheriff Karl Byrd was re-elected for a second term with 58.6 percent of the vote over opponent Jerry Roberts.
Roberts, a former Faulkner County justice of the peace, took a position of “anti-corruption” against Byrd, stating that the sheriff was negligent in the use of evidence in a cold Faulkner County murder case.
The Faulkner County Tea Party, the University of Central Arkansas, True Holiness Saints Center and several other civic and educational groups hosted debates and forums with the public.
County election officials reported that polls were attended by a high number of voters in this past election cycle.
8. District Judge
A 27-year veteran of Faulkner County courts, District Judge Russell L. “Jack” Roberts passed away June 9, 2010.
Roberts’ unexpected death shocked his family, co-workers and many in the community.
His reach in the community included serving as vice chairman of the supervisory board of the Arkansas Crime Information Center, holding office as a president of the District Court Judges Council and serving as a member of the council’s education committee. He was appointed by the Arkansas Supreme Court to serve on the court’s committee on automation.
Roberts also initiated educational programs where students and Boy Scout troops would visit his courtroom.
Roberts was described by friends and family as a loving father, a competent judge, a good person and a well-liked member of the community.
After Roberts’ death, city officials elected to hold a dedication ceremony in honor of the late judge, naming the district court building the Russell L. “Jack” Roberts District Court Building.
investigation sent to grand jury
Former University of Central Arkansas President Lu Hardin is at the center of grand jury proceedings and a federal investigation surrounding financial dealings during his tenure at the university.
UCA Board of Trustees member Rush Harding III and former UCA executive vice president Barbara Anderson were subpoenaed to testify in front of the jury.
Harding told the Log Cabin that he was also examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier in the investigation.
A document obtained from UCA under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act shows that the university was subpoenaed in December 2009 for materials used by Hardin and former UCA senior vice president Joe Darling.
The subpoena requested the university provide “any and all computers, any electronic and/or optical data storage and/or retrieval system for medium, and any related computer peripherals utilities” used by Hardin and Darling.
Hardin formally resigned from his post at UCA after several months of controversy surrounding a memo privately approving a $300,000 bonus. The memo was found to have been written by Hardin and attributed to three vice presidents.
Hardin’s tenure was also clouded by the alleged misappropriation of funds to buy out the president’s contract, public funds that some board and faculty members felt should not be used for that purpose.
Hardin later refunded the university.
In 2009, Hardin accepted the position as president of Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University, a private, Christian institution.
Darling also left UCA after a state audit questioned dealings with Little Rock advertising executive Ben Combs.
10. Voters pass tax increase to benefit school district
It was a time of economic insecurity, but voters in September approved by a 2-1 margin a proposal by the Conway School District to add a 1.9-mill tax increase to pay for a multitude of changes, preparing the district for growth in the year 2012 and beyond.
As approved, the increased tax will go to an estimated $40 million project to include:
• Construction of a new high school facility on the Conway High School-West campus for new classrooms, library and office space, and in phase two, the construction of a new cafeteria, the razing of the “pod” system and walkway connections to all buildings on campus.
• The reconfiguration of grades to K-4, 5-7, 8-9 and 10-12. Tenth-grade students would move to the West campus, and eighth-grade students would move to the East campus. Ray and Phyllis Simon, Ruth Doyle, Bob Courtway, and Carl Stuart schools would transition to grades 5-7.
• Repurposing Sallie Cone Elementary to a pre-K facility, housing all pre-K students in one location in the fall of 2012.
• Rezoning elementary school attendance zones by the fall of 2012.
• Additional elementary classroom space for the growing district. Property has been bought for that purpose on Old Military Road.
The campaign for passage was led by Tom Courtway, chairman of a 25-member 2012 millage committee. Subcommittee heads were Jan Spann, logistics; Lori Case, advertising; and Blake Browning, fundraising.