SF fire grabs national spotlight, top story honors
Posted: Friday, December 31, 2010 9:04 pm
Today is the last day of 2010. Though it may have gone by quickly for many of us, the year holds many stories, whether good or bad, which make us what we are today.
Not everyone in Obion County was directly affected by each and every story but, in keeping with tradition, The Messenger’s news staff has compiled a list of the ones we thought the most worthy to be called our Top 10 stories of the year.
South Fulton fire
The Messenger’s top story of 2010 sparked plenty of heated debate far beyond Obion County.
It all started with a Sept. 29 fire at Gene and Paulette Cranick’s home on Buddy Jones Road, outside the city limits of South Fulton.
The property owners had not paid the annual fee for a rural fire subscription service offered to county residents by the City of South Fulton and the city’s fire department could not respond to the rural blaze, which destroyed the Cranicks’ home.
Later in the evening, the Cranicks’ son, 44-year-old Timothy A. Cranick, was charged with aggravated assault after allegedly hitting South Fulton Fire Chief David Wilds at the city’s fire station. His assault case is still pending in Obion County General Sessions Court and a preliminary hearing was recently continued for a second time since October, with the matter now set for Jan. 13.
The South Fulton fire story made national and even international headlines in late September and early October, with the offices of local government officials flooded with telephone calls — many of them hateful and some of them even threatening in nature. The Messenger was bombarded with letters to the editor and telephone calls from irate citizens around the nation and from other media outlets interested in finding an angle in covering the story.
Mrs. Cranick told The Messenger in the days following the fire that she held no grudge against the City of South Fulton or the South Fulton Fire Department, adding that she and her family did not seek all the media attention but were pursuing the matter in order to see changes made in local rural fire coverage.
Local fire chiefs also spoke out in the fire’s aftermath and said firefighters and support agencies had been unduly condemned, criticized and threatened over the ordeal.
The fire in South Fulton may have brought national attention to the county, but it also brought to the forefront the county’s plan for rural fire protection.
After years of spending their own money to cover fires outside their city limits, the county’s municipalities in 2009 put the county’s government on alert that the practice would not continue as is.
City leaders in the rural areas say the cost to outfit their departments is too much to continue to lay at the feet of their taxpayers alone and requested financial assistance from the county government.
County commissioners were unwilling to expend county funds for rural fire protection and instead worked out a plan which calls for county property owners to purchase a subscription, just like rural subscribers do from fire departments in South Fulton, Union City and Kenton.
The county will collect the subscription fee, keep 5 percent for administrative costs and distribute the remainder to Union City, Kenton, Samburg, Hornbeak, Troy, Obion and Rives. South Fulton has decided not to participate.
As the year ends, Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire said everybody has agreed to the plan, which awaits final approval at the county commission’s January meeting.
The year 2010 saw the whole gamut when it came to weather conditions.
January started the year of extreme weather with highs in the mid-20s and wind chill factors dipping below 0. The county braced for a winter storm, but luckily a system of dry air moved over the area, sparing Obion County the snow which was forecast. Still, the area saw at least 10 straight days of freezing temperatures.
Obion County communities got between six and nine inches of snow the last weekend of January. It was one for the record books, being counted as the biggest snow in a decade for the county. Just 10 days later, an additional four inches of snow blanketed the area. Then in mid-February, an inch of snow and ice covered the roadways.
The nation watched on television as a portable building floated down the interstate in Nashville in May. More than 13 inches of rain fell in a two-day period there. Back home, Kenton residents were dealing with their own flooding problems. About 50 homes east of Kenton were affected when the area received between three and four inches of rain. A flood warning was issued for the Obion River in the days to follow and the state ordered hundreds of bridges throughout West Tennessee inspected.
After the May rains, water fell sparingly from the skies in June and July, when highs were in the 90s and the heat index was over 100. A welcome reprieve came in mid-July when more than two inches fell in a day. Still, farmers were watching their crops begin to fail from the lack of rain.
August saw potentially deadly heat with high humidity, temperatures above 100 and heat index levels between 113-120. Less than 1 1/2 inches of rain fell in August, while less than an inch of rain fell in September. October saw 2.11 inches of rainfall, but still it was not enough to raise water levels at Reelfoot Lake, where the lake level was recorded to be at 10.31 feet. The lowest level recorded at the time was 9.3 feet on Nov. 20-21, 1953.
So far this year, Obion County has received only 37.92 inches of rain in 2010, well below the 63.20 inches which fell in 2009.
Politics at the local, state and national level had a major impact on Obion County in 2010.
Political campaigns dominated the headlines during the second half of the year, with heated races taking place on all three levels. Nationally, mid-term elections proved to be a referendum on Democrats in Washington, D.C.
On the national level, state Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, made the decision to forgo his campaign for governor and instead entered the race to replace longtime U.S. Congressman John Tanner. He easily dominated in the Democratic primary, but was defeated by Crockett County farmer and gospel singer Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, in the race to represent the 8th Congressional District.
On the state level, Kenton businessman and Republican Bill Sanderson rode his party’s wave into office when he defeated incumbent state Rep. Judy Barker, D-Union City, in the November general election. Sanderson proved the second time is the charm, pulling off the win in 2010 after being narrowly defeated by his Democratic rival in 2008.
The Republican domination in the November, elections really hit home with Obion Countians supporting Knoxville Mayor and Republican Bill Haslam in his successful bid for the governor’s seat over Democratic rival Mike McWherter.
Locally, one of the most interesting races in the county was the race for the county property assessor’s office. Longtime staff member Judy Smith outlasted a crowded field of five challengers to emerge the victor in the race to succeed Kathy Roberson.
Union City’s Goodyear tire plant made the headlines several times during the past year, beginning in early January. It was then that members of the United Steelworkers Local 878 voted down a labor agreement with the company.
Two weeks later, after negotiators revised the agreement, it was passed by USW Local 878.
The local tire plant’s status has been changed to unprotected status and during the year the company began moving tire-building equipment to its Lawton, Okla., facility.
It was in March that the company announced plant manager Todd Turner had been promoted to director of global plant technology and was being replaced by Terry Tennyson, former general manager of Goodyear’s North American Tire allied plants.
With the plant’s downsizing, state officials offered a $561,000 incentive package to Goodyear, but the year is ending without any news about whether the state’s offer has been accepted.
Extreme cold, record heat, ice storm, snow storm, drenching rains and drought all were endured by animals housed at Ann’s Place in Union City in the few short years the animal shelter was run by the Ken-Tenn Humane Society.
It was these conditions the dogs suffered through which brought residents to Union City council meetings. They also complained about overcrowding and dogs “sitting in mud half the time.”
In early March, Lois Birk, who had helped form the organization and who was president when Union City initially signed a contract with the group, penned a letter to the city giving a 90-day notice to end its contract. There were questions to its legality since she was no longer president of the organization. Other officials with the group later appeared before the council and asked for a second chance, saying new policies were in place.
In June, though, Union City police reported finding two dead dogs — one inside an outdoor pen and one inside the trailer. Less than a week later, while on a routine visit, police found a dead kitten outside the front gate at the shelter. Shelter officials said the dogs died from diseases they had before coming to the shelter and all cats are kept inside the trailer in cages and could not have gotten out. Police reported there was no water or food in the pens at the time the dead dogs were found and the temperature was around 94 degrees, with a heat index of around 104.
Union City officials let it be known in June that they were working on a plan which would get the dogs in a building and out of the weather. A plan was presented during a July council meeting for the building at 1415 North Fifth St. to be renovated, but council members were not ready to give Sara Lee a lease termination notification letter. The project was put on hold again at a second July meeting after council members weren’t sure the shelter needed such a large building.
Finally, in August, the council voted to remodel the building, with the bid going to Allen Searcy Builder Contractors. It was noted this month the building was complete and the animals could be moved in.
DPA back on track
Messenger readers have “discovered” an ongoing interest in the multi-million dollar education-entertainment-tourism complex being planned on a 50-acre site in Union City between Everett Boulevard and the under-construction I-69. For the fourth year in a row, Discovery Park of America has made the Top 10 stories list for the paper.
The new year had hardly gotten under way when the Kirkland Foundation, which is responsible for a massive part of the project’s funding, announced the selection of a new architect — Verner Johnson Associates of Boston — and a team of exhibit design and construction and landscape architects. Thinc Design of New York, Maltbie Museum Management and Ritchie Smith Associates of Memphis have assumed the latter responsibilities.
Local volunteer committees planning what will be featured at the site geared up again to work with a new team and quickly moved forward. A new architectural design was submitted in early April and was refined over the coming months.
Meanwhile, committees moved ahead with securing items to be displayed at DPA. These included a working grist mill, looms, log buildings, military equipment and a Stearman plane identical to those used to train World War II cadets at the former Embry-Riddle Field. The plane made its arrival to the enthusiastic reception of hundreds of area flight fans in June at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport, site of the training field.
Obion County officials were outraged when word came down in February from Washington that the $35 million TIGER Grant (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) to complete work on the Cates Landing riverport project near Tiptonville had been denied.
The project began with a price tag of $22 million and a total of $14.9 million had been invested in the effort as 2010 appeared on local calendars. Obion, Lake and Dyer counties had pledged substantial support, as had 18 other West Tennessee counties.
Proponents of the effort put forward a proposal with a $35 million price tag attached to gain the attention of the Obama administration as it moved forward in awarding $1.5 billion as part of a plan to stimulate the economy through the Department of Transportation.
Obion County Budget Committee members looked at the list of projects which did receive aid and swiftly condemned the department’s action in turning down the local request.
“They pulled the rug out from under us because of politics,” said committee chairman Danny Jowers.
Jimmy Williamson, chairman of Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority, agreed but announced in March that the federal decision was “not the end of the line” and said he was working with Tennessee’s senators and U.S. Congressman John Tanner to find alternative funding. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander quickly followed up with a request for $10 million in a new transportation bill for the rails at the Cates Landing industrial park and Tanner pledged to include a request for $7 million in the appropriations bill for 2011.
As the weather warmed, USDOT announced a second round of TIGER funding and the Port Authority quickly submitted a request for $16 million, having originally suggested they might ask for $20 million to $30 million. A promise of funding in the amount of $4 million from the State of Tennessee allowed the port authority to modify its request. In October, Tanner announced the project had been awarded $13 million in TIGER II funding and supporters went back to Nashville, requesting help in plugging the $3 million hole left by the federal decision.
Williamson announced in early November that the Volunteer State had, once again, stepped up and the project was moving ahead.
SF principal controversy
It all started with the Sept. 1 reassignment of South Fulton Middle/High School principal Adam Stephens to a classroom position at an Obion County elementary school.
Obion County Director of Schools David Huss said the reassignment occurred during a meeting where both he and Stephens were present, but no specific details were disclosed.
However, details surfaced just a week later when a number of South Fulton parents and students expressed a show of support for Stephens and asked for him to be reinstated. They organized a meeting where they asked school board members and Huss to meet with them to address their concerns.
At the Sept. 9 meeting, Stephens publicly apologized for his actions during the Sept. 1 meeting with Huss. He explained the meeting was held simply to answer questions Huss had about the disposition of a fundraiser, but he said after some preliminary statements and questions and answers, Huss made a statement that he took as offensive since it was made in front of a faculty member who accompanied him to the meeting.
Stephens said although the comment was offensive to him, he since realized his reaction was “neither professional nor appropriate,” explaining that he removed himself from the meeting while it was in progress, an act of insubordination. He said he returned to the meeting and exchanged words with Huss, adding that the act of disrespect was “unprofessional on my part.”
Obion County Central High School assistant principal Craig Rogers served a period as South Fulton Middle/High School’s interim principal after Stephens’ reassignment and Huss announced in October that faculty members Keith Frazier and Kelly Spivey would assume interim leadership positions for the rest of the school year.
The saga of the pot-bellied rapist began in 2009, continued throughout 2010 and will carry over into 2011.
Bruce Tuck, 37, pleaded guilty Dec. 10, 2009, in a Weakley County court to multiple felony charges — including six counts of aggravated rape, aggravated burglary and five counts of aggravated kidnapping — in connection with a series of home invasion sexual assaults in the summer of 2009 in Martin.
He is serving a 60-year sentence with the Tennessee Department of Correction.
Tuck was initially arrested Sept. 2, 2009, at his parents’ home in Gleason after DNA evidence linked him to a sexual assault on Raven Street in Martin on Aug. 30. He was accused of holding three people at gunpoint and raping a University of Tennessee at Martin student.
Other home invasion sexual assaults had also been reported in Martin and Shelby County throughout the summer months. Those cases prompted a massive search by law enforcement agencies for a suspect described as having a pot belly and wearing a mask.
During the execution of a search warrant at a rental storage unit that reportedly had ties to Tuck, investigators allegedly found a mask similar to the one used during the attacks.
In February 2010, he was indicted by a Shelby County grand jury on multiple charges of rape, burglary and robbery for incidents that allegedly occurred last summer in Memphis and Shelby County.
Tuck filed a petition for relief from conviction in Weakley County on May 19, 2010. In the 10-page petition, he claims he was coerced into offering a confession, denied effective assistance of counsel and his guilty plea was involuntarily entered without understanding the nature and consequences.
His case will continue in court in 2011.
Published in The Messenger 12.31.10
Ann's Place, Cates Landing, Discovery Park of America, John Tanner, Obion County, South Fulton Fire, Stephen Fincher, Top 10 stories for The Messenger