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State to test all nursing home residents, staff in June

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state plans to test all nursing home residents and staff in June, which will amount to 40,000-50,000 tests.

“This additional testing will better protect our nursing home residents and staff,” the governor said during Tuesday’s briefing on the novel coronavirus.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 4,923 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state, which is an additional 110 cases since Monday.

Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said the rise in cases is reflective of the increased testing.

“Yesterday was an all-time high in testing [for Arkansas],” Smith said of the 3,014 tests that were completed Monday.

Rachel Bunch, executive director with the Arkansas Health Care Association, praised the state’s staff at long-term care facilities, calling them “our heroes.”

She said that when staff members are unable to work because they are ill or have a family member who is ill, other staff members have volunteered to cover their shifts, leaving no gap in care.

“As a state, we have not only met but we continue to exceed our staffing requirements,” Bunch said.

As of Tuesday, 87,614 tests have been conducted since the start of the pandemic. Of the 3,014 tests done on Monday, Dr. Smith said, there was a positivity rate of 1.5 percent.

The governor set a goal of 60,000 tests to be completed in Arkansas during the month of May.

Greenbrier teen designs sign to honor high school graduates

A Greenbrier high school student put her art skills to the test and created a sign to help bring the community together and also honor the 2020 graduating class.

Jacie Krisell, 16, teamed up with Greenbrier resident Bill Tyler to bring the project to life.

The Greenbrier teen designed the painting and Tyler dusted off his carpentry skills and cut sheets of plywood so Krisell could get to work.

The high school junior said she enjoyed tackling the community-oriented project that aims to promote togetherness and school spirit.

“It gave me the opportunity to do something for the fire department and congratulate the seniors,” Krisell told the Log Cabin Democrat. “They didn’t have a graduation and won’t have one for a while.”

The new signage was set up Tuesday afternoon in front of the new Greenbrier Fire Department along Highway 65.

Fire Chief Tim Tyler said the department was proud to support the 2020 graduating class by sporting a hand-painted sign by one of the school district’s students.

“I think she’s a cool artist,” he said. “And, I appreciate the seniors and hope the best for them for the rest of their lives.”

Bringing the project to life was special to Krisell, she said, because it allowed her to showcase her artistic talents while also honoring her brother, Jay Krisell, who was a Greenbrier High School 2020 graduate.

“I don’t know if he’ll be here for graduation because he joined the Army National Guard,” Krisell said.

School districts across the state were forced to cancel traditional graduation ceremonies in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Creating a sign that included the school’s mascot and incorporated the city’s fire department was one way Krisell said she felt she could inspire the community.

Greenbrier resident Kim Tyler, who is Tim’s sister and lives close to Krisell, said she watched the 16-year-old paint the town’s new signage.

“She’s got a wonderful design eye about placement,” Kim said, adding that Krisell freehanded the fire department’s emblem that is featured on the panther’s helmet. “The chief and assistant chief stopped by one day and held up a shirt with the emblem on it. She just looked at the shirt and freehanded the design.”

The Greenbrier woman said she hopes the sign shows as a community reminder that “we’re all in this together.”

Authorities will start enforcing seat belt laws on Friday

The summer Click It or Ticket campaign kicks off on Friday as law enforcement officers across the state enforce seat belt laws.

“Our law enforcement officers see firsthand the loss of life and trauma when people refuse to buckle up,” Arkansas State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant said. “It’s such a simple step, buckling up, when you first sit down inside a car or truck, it should be second nature. Why wouldn’t you want to do something that increases your chances of keeping you or your family safe?”

Seat belt laws will be heavily enforced across the state beginning Friday through June 7 per the annual Click It or Ticket campaign.

Authorities said the timing of the program launch coincides with “one of the busiest travel and holiday weekends each year.”

Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office deputies will also be out enforcing seat belt laws during the campaign.

FCSO Chief Deputy Matt Rice said the campaign is important, because seat belt usage helps ensure motorists are safe.

“It only takes a few seconds to put on your seatbelt and it’s the law,” he said on Tuesday. “We see the results of seat belts saving lives every day. The Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office wants everyone to be as safe as possible while driving and wearing a seat belt is the safest way.”

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that 9,778 unbuckled passengers died in crashes across the United States in 2018.

“That same year, 56 percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed at night … were not wearing seat belts,” authorities said. “The statistical study has led law enforcement agencies to place additional emphasis on nighttime seat belt enforcement. Participating law enforcement agencies are taking a no-excuses approach to seat belt law enforcement, whether a violator is stopped day or night.”

Anyone in the front seat of a vehicle (drivers and front-seat passengers) is required to wear a seat belt. Arkansas law also mandates than children 15 years old and younger wear a seat belt and that children 6 years old and younger and who weighs less than 60 pounds sit in a car seat or booster seat. If the person driving a vehicle has a restricted license, everyone in the vehicle must wear a seat belt.

Man accused in sexual assault case found fit for trial


A Conway man accused of sexually assaulting a woman while she was sleeping in November was declared fit for trial earlier this month.

Nickolas Dee Rankin, 24, was arrested and charged with second-degree sexual assault in November 2019 after he reportedly touched a woman inappropriately while she was sleeping at a friend’s house.

Defense attorney Otto Fry previously requested his client undergo a mental evaluation. During a brief hearing in Faulkner County Circuit Court on Monday, the defense attorney notified a circuit judge that Rankin was found fit to proceed with trial.

Now that his client has been found fit for trial, the defense attorney said he wanted more time to negotiate with prosecutors before setting a trial date.

“If we can’t resolve it, I’ll ask for a trial,” Fry said.

Circuit Judge Troy Braswell Jr. said he would allow the defense team “additional time for negotiations” before moving forward in setting a trial date.

Before he walked away from the stand, the 24-year-old sexual assault suspect asked the circuit judge to consider lowering the $25,000 bond imposed against him.

“I’ve been in here since Nov. 9,” Rankin pleaded.

The 24-year-old said he did not believe it was fair that he was behind bars because he reportedly violated the conditions of his probation in two prior, unrelated cases.

“Regardless of what happened on [your] revocations, you have a $25,000 bond on a Class B felony,” Braswell said.

The sexual assault case against Rankin stems from a Nov. 9 incident where he inappropriately touched a Conway woman while she was sleeping, according to a probable cause affidavit.

The woman told police on Nov. 9 that Rankin first made her feel uncomfortable when she caught him masturbating from across the room.

According to the woman’s statement, she was lying on the couch at her friend’s house with her 7-year-old son when she looked up at 1:30 a.m. and saw Rankin touching himself under a blanket.

“Nickolas was laying on his back, masturbating while looking at her,” the woman said, adding that “she saw his genitalia.”

When the woman confronted the Conway man, he reportedly “ran to the downstairs bathroom.”

Later that day, the woman said she woke up to Rankin touching her inappropriately.

“At approximately [9:45 a.m.], she woke up to Nickolas touching her breast and vaginal area,” the affidavit reads in part.

“Upon Nickolas’ realization of her consciousness, he turned around and went back to the pallet.”

The 24-year-old Conway man is scheduled to appear next on June 16 in Faulkner County Circuit Court for a pretrial hearing in the case.