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Kingsport News

  Health Wagon events slated for Wise, Dickenson counties -

WISE — Residents of Wise and Dickenson counties will be able to receive free medical treatment next week thanks to a pair of community health fairs organized by local community agencies and service providers.

The annual Health Wagon events will take place May 15 at Zion Family Ministries in Wise and May 16 at Valley View Freewill Baptist Church in Clintwood. Both fairs will be held from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Those health fairs come on the heels of the 3rd annual RAM Health Clinic, which began Friday and runs through Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 2013 Tri-Cities Regional Area Medical Clinic will provide medical, dental and vision services at no cost to individuals who attend.

According to organizers, the events are designed to link area health care providers with local residents to provide a wide array of health services and information targeted at prevention of both serious and common ailments and diseases.

Providers at this week’s events include Dickenson Community Hospital, Norton Community Hospital, Mountain States Health Alliance, the Virginia Health Care Foundation and Anthem Blue-Cross BlueShield.

“These health fairs are perfect examples of how the community can come together to help its members in need,” Health Wagon Director of Operations David Meade said. “With the rising cost of health care, attending this free event is a bargain for the consumer.”

Like in years past, the 2013 health fairs will feature the participation of medical staff and students of the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University.

Medical personnel will provide individual assessment by taking a complete medical history and performing a comprehensive physical examination. Physicals for school and athletics can also be performed.

Blood work for cholesterol, including HDL, LDL, and triglycerides, as well as glucose and hemoglobin readings, will be available. If medically indicated, additional labs may be performed.

In addition to general medical treatment, health services will also be offered specifically for women and men.

Women will be able to receive Pap smears, as well as register for UVA’s mobile mammography program on the days of the events.

Every Woman’s Life will be screening for eligible women who might qualify for free mammograms as well, and the United Breast Cancer Foundation will also be actively involved.

Men will also be able to take advantage of getting a blood test, a PSA, to aid in the detection of prostate cancer. Prostate and testicular exams will also be offered.

Other services will include blood pressure checks, height, weight, pulse, pulse oximetry, EKGs — if medically indicated — urinalysis, pulmonary function testing and massage.

Vision, hearing, glaucoma, and colorectal screenings will also be provided.

Information on a variety of health topics will also be available at booths run by local health care providers, health departments, and other local service organizations.

Body fat composition analysis, medication review, skin cancer screening, depression screening, and stress management will also be available.

Participants are encouraged to not eat or drink after midnight if they plan on having blood work performed. In addition, those who wish medication review should bring medicines with them.

Organizers said door prizes and other free items donated by area merchants will be given away to attendees. The first 100 participants each day will also receive a gift bag.

Volunteer High School's RAIN Club to host Earth Day event for third-graders -

CHURCH HILL — Hawkins County third-graders will have an opportunity to spend a day at Laurel Run Park on Friday while learning about recycling and the environment from a group of Volunteer High School students.

The Hawkins County Board of Education approved a request from the VHS RAIN Club on Tuesday to host an Earth Day event Friday at Laurel Run Park. The club invited all third-grade classes in the county school system.

Director of Schools Charlotte Britton told the BOE on Tuesday the program is a gift from the RAIN Club to the school system and students, and it was limited to only one grade because there would be too many students for the RAIN Club to manage if all the grades were included.

“The invitation will be open to all the (Hawkins County) schools, and whether they participate is going to be entirely up to them,” Britton added.

Among the activities planned are trash sculpting, trash barrel painting, face painting, seed planting and nature walks.

There will also be a fire safety program conducted by the Goshen Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

Everyone who attends will receive free hot dogs.

The VHS band will perform during the event.

In other business Tuesday the Hawkins County BOE:

• Heard a report from Britton that school maintenance director Bill Shedden was named the National School Plant Manager of the Year at the National School Plant Manager’s Association national conference in San Antonio, Texas. Shedden wasn’t able to attend Tuesday’s meeting and the BOE will formally recognize that achievement at its June meeting.

• Recognized the 2012-13 BOE student representatives who attended their last meeting before graduation. Among those honored were Jeremiah Marshall and Ally Jennings from Volunteer High School; Sarah Woolridge and Mary Grace Winegar from Cherokee High School; and Breanna Nichols and Samuel Long from Clinch School.

• Heard a report from board member Debbie Shedden that high school students Michaela Marshall and Alexandria Harrell represented Hawkins County at the March 10 SCOPE (Student Congress on Policies in Education) Conference, sponsored by the Tennessee School Board Association in which ninth- through 12th-grade students across the state met at Middle Tennessee State University to discuss topics in education.

At the end of the event the students voted on four major issues including: should corporal punishment be prohibited in public schools, with 35 percent saying yes and 65 percent disagreeing; should students be required to perform 48 hours of community service prior to graduation, with 67 percent saying yes and 32.6 percent saying no; should the school calendar be increased form 180 to 200 days of instruction, with 46 percent saying yes and 54 percent saying no; and should failing students be required to attend Saturday tutoring sessions, with 40.8 percent saying yes and 59.2 percent saying no.

Phase 2 of Rock Springs Road improvements to begin soon -

KINGSPORT — In about a month, Rock Springs Road will be under construction again, this time with road improvements stretching from Rock Springs Valley Road to Cox Hollow Road.

The project, dubbed Rock Springs Road Phase 2, consists of widening a 3,000-foot stretch of Rock Springs Road, along with other roadway improvements such as installing new water lines and fire hydrants, some curb and gutter work, landscaping and extending the existing mobility path.

Tim Elsea, Kingsport’s traffic engineer, said the latest project basically picks up from the first round of improvements along Rock Springs Road. Two years ago, Thomas Construction widened and improved nearly 3,400 feet of Rock Springs Road under a $1.5 million contract with the city of Kingsport.

For phase two, Thomas Construction was again the low bidder at $1.75 million. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen earlier this month approved the contract and Elsea said work is expected to begin in late May or early June.

“(Thomas Construction) is going to be smoothing out some of the vertical curves, cutting down one hill where the project starts and filling in another one about halfway through,” Elsea said, noting the work will essentially improve the vertical geometry of the roadway.

Elsea said the contractor is not expected to do any traffic calming measures during phase two, as the conditions of the road do not warrant them, and once work wraps up the speed limit on this section of roadway will be 35 miles per hour. In addition, Elsea said this phase of work does not call for ditches across the property.

During the first phase, ditches were dug across a number of residents’ properties, significantly impacting their front yards. Eventually, Kingsport filled the unneeded ditch lines and corrected the front yards impacted by the work.

“We feel like we’ve hopefully addressed all of the right-of-way issues and did not take the amount of property as did with the first phase, where some people’s front yards were drastically cut into unnecessarily,” Elsea said. “That was a lesson learned with phase one.”

The projected end date of the project is Nov. 15 and the section of roadway will be closed during the entire construction process, Elsea said, but not before May 27.

“That’s because of schools,” Elsea said. “They can start work before May 27, but they have to have conditions for flagging and maintaining traffic for schools. We’re trying not to impact both school years and work will just impact the start of school next year.”

The overall improvement of Rock Springs Road includes a third phase of work, from Cox Hollow Road to Interstate 26, but since this portion of road is a state route, the Tennessee Department of Transportation will oversee the work.

The traffic count along this section of Rock Springs Road is approximately 2,500 vehicles per day; in 2007, the number was 3,000 vehicles per day.

Rogersville Fourth of July Committee needs funds to avoid program cuts -

ROGERSVILLE — Organizers of Rogersville’s annual Fourth of July Celebration are hoping more sponsorships and/or donations come in soon so that programming cuts won’t have to be made to the region’s largest Independence Day gathering.

This year, the free celebration is taking place on Saturday, July 6.

For most of the past decade, the Fourth of July Celebration held at the Rogersville City Park had attracted an estimated 30,000 visitors.

But a combination of perfect weather and bigger name entertainment for the free concert has lifted those attendance figures to an estimated 50,000 for the past two years.

Fourth of July Committee Chairman Dr. Blaine Jones said last week that donations have slowed since an earlier announcement that this year’s entertainment will include ACM new female vocalist of the year Jana Kramer and the multi-award winning Christian group the Newsboys.

The event is now two months away, and Jones said organizers need more sponsorships and/or donations soon before some tough decisions might have to be made.

Although the entertainment and attractions are free to the public, the people providing the entertainment and attractions still have to be paid.

“We always have a great show and we have never charged for any of it except for a few rides many years ago,” Jones said. “We do lean on big sponsors and any size donations to help continue this as a free event. We do have a few options that we really hope we do not have to put into place, but we can cut down our budget and thus the size of our show if contributions do not start materializing very soon.”

Jones said one option under consideration is downsizing the fireworks show to meet budget constraints.

Jones added, “Since we always have one of the largest shows in a five-state region, we would really like to avoid doing that. Another area we can cut down is the size of our Kids Zone. That would be a huge disappointment to the multiple thousands of kids who come into Rogersville to enjoy that day, and it would be a big disappointment to us as well.”

Donations to the Rogersville Fourth of July Celebration can be sent to: July 4th Celebration, P.O. Box 35, Rogersville, TN 37857.

Companies or individuals interested in becoming event sponsors can call Jones at (423) 272-3150.

Visit for more information.

Hawkins sheriff to host county's official 'Police Memorial Ceremony' -

This past Wednesday Hawkins County Mayor Melville Bailey signed a proclamation, which proclaims the week of May 12 – May 18, 2013 as “Police Week” in Hawkins County, Tennessee.

Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson will be hosting the first official “Police Memorial Ceremony” on May 15, 2013, at 10:30 am at the Hawkins County Justice Center, located at 117 Justice Center Drive Rogersville, Tn.

This ceremony is to pay tribute to all fallen brother and sister law enforcement officer across the nation, including three Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Deputies who have made that ultimate sacrifice.

During this ceremony, Sheriff Ronnie Lawson will pay tribute to and recognize these fallen heroes. Anyone who wishes to attend is urged to please do so.

The Hawkins County Sheriff Office’s patrol fleet will also be paying tribute to these fallen officers by displaying blue ribbons on the patrol car antennas during this week.

UPDATE: Wayne McConnell, longtime Sullivan County commissioner, dies -

Updated at 7:10 p.m.

KINGSPORT — Sullivan County Commissioner Wayne McConnell, 9th District, died Saturday at Bristol Select Specialty Hospital.

McConnell, 65, has been a member of the Sullivan County Commission for more than a quarter of a century.

On Sunday, current and former members of county government were mourning the loss of McConnell, who they said will be remembered for a passionate dedication to his family and community, a sharp wit, a good-natured spirit and a willingness to take a stand for his beliefs.

“I’ve known him for 30 years,” County Commissioner Dennis Houser said. “When I look at Wayne, ... Wayne has always fought for the people in his district with every ounce in his heart. Whatever Wayne believed in, he stood up for — in spite of any criticism, because he took a stand for what he believed. Sometimes it was controversial. But he did it with dignity and treated everyone with respect. He always had the county employees at heart. And he was not afraid of work. If you asked Wayne for cooperation he would always work with you. Wayne was loyal. I had the highest respect for him.”

“My condolences to his wonderful family,” former Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said Sunday afternoon. “Wayne was a dear friend and colleague. When I was county mayor I depended on him, and even though we didn’t always agree, I trusted his opinion. I’ll miss him and his unique sense of humor.”

Born in Kingsport, McConnell was retired from Mead Corp., and before his recent illness he served with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.

McConnell was heavily involved in community service and civic activities, including Lynn Garden Community Caring, North Kingsport Community Center, North Kingsport Volunteer Fire Department, and longtime membership in the Optimist and Ruritan clubs.

McConnell is survived by his wife, Dena McConnell; son, Darius McConnell; daughter, Madonna Green; granddaughter, Heather Green; sister, Carolyn Bellamy of Church Hill; brother, Jim McConnell of Irving, Texas; and a host of nieces and nephews.

Wayne McConnell was the son of Dewey and Ora McConnell, who preceded him in death, as did brothers Ryland Frederick McConnell and Charles Daugherty McConnell.

Visitation is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Oak Hill Funeral Home.

Funeral services will be conducted at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the J. Wayne Hamilton Memorial Chapel of Oak Hill Funeral Home.

Gravesides services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Oak Hill Memorial Park.


Sullivan County Commissioner Wayne McConnell died Saturday at Bristol Select Specialty Hospital.

McConnell, 65, has been a member of the Sullivan County Commission for more than a quarter of a century.

Born in Kingsport, McConnell was retired from Mead Corporation and before his recent lillness he served with the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office.

McConnell was heavily involved in community service and civic activities, including Lynn Garden Community Caring, North Kingsport Commmunity Center, North Kingsport Volunteer Fire Department, and longtime membership of Optimist and Ruritan clubs.

McConnell is survived by his wife Dena McConnel, son Darius McConnell, daughter Madonna Green, granddaughter Heather Green, sister Carolyn Bellamy of Church Hill, brother Jim McConnell of Irving, Texas, and a host of nieces and nephews.

Visitation is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Oak Hill Funeral Home.

Funeral services will be conducted at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the J. Wayne Hamilton Memorial Chapel of Oak Hill Funeral Home.

Gravesides services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Oak Hill Memorial Park.

Kingsport bans all forms of smoking at school games -

KINGSPORT — There’ll be no more blowing smoke at Dobyns-Bennett High School football games, even if it is water vapor from an electronic cigarette.

Kingsport City Schools no smoking and tobacco policy now bans the public use of electronic cigarettes or any smoking device in athletic stadiums.

The Board of Education in regular session Thursday night voted 5-0 to adopt a series of policy changes including an amendment of its tobacco policy in the “adults” section. As amended and approved by the board, the policy says: “ADULTS — including staff, those involved in adult programs or other activities, and spectators — are not permitted to use tobacco in the buildings of the system, or on school buses, either during or after school hours. The use of tobacco products by KCS employees while supervising students is prohibited.”

That was already in the policy, but the following was added: “Smoking is prohibited in any public seating area and public restrooms on school grounds, including, but not limited to, bleachers used for sporting events. It is the intent of the Board that there be a ‘no smoking’ policy within the fenced-in perimeters of the system’s athletic fields.

“Smoking includes but is not limited to: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and other devices that produce smoke, and also includes gases, particles, or vapors. Smoking also includes simulated smoking such as an electronic cigarette, including e-cigarette, e-cigar, e-pipe, or under any other product name.”

The policy earlier states that the use of tobacco is prohibited in all school buildings and that students shall not be allowed at any time “to use or possess tobacco on school property or while they participate in any class or activity in which they represent the school system.”

Marybeth McLain, the system’s communications editor, said the amendment specifying no stadium smoking and banning electronic smoking devices was suggested by City Attorney Mike Billingsley and Tammie Davis, school system director of employee support and human resources. D-B Principal Chris Hampton said he was unaware of any widespread complaints about cigarette smoke — electronic or otherwise — at D-B games, although BOE member Susan Lodal said she’s heard complaints and last fall experienced secondhand smoke firsthand during a D-B football game at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.

Asked about enforcement, McLain said no smoking signs and “common courtesy” likely would suffice. Lodal said the smoke she smelled seemed to come from near the bleachers. She acknowledged the policy doesn’t ban the public from smoking in the parking lots or outside the stadium, although student smoking would be prohibited by the policy and Tennessee law prohibits smoking by anyone younger than 18.

It also prohibits smoking in many public places, including schools, nursing homes and restaurants, although bars have an exception, as do some businesses that employ a small number of people and have a garage door. Lodal said the thought might be that electronic devices that emit water vapor would be difficult to distinguish from real cigarettes.

Among other policies approved Thursday, the BOE:

•Changed the “Drug-Free Workplace” policy, as recommended by Billingsley and Davis, to say employee use of illegal drugs “on board property, including a school building or bus, on any school campus, grounds, recreation area, athletic fields or any other property owned, used or operated by the Board of Education is absolutely prohibited; moreover, these conditions apply to employees while on duty, whether on or off Board property.”

•Changes the requirement for the school system to keep “all non-spam emails sent and/or received on the system for a minimum of 12 months” in the old policy to 90 days, “in accordance with Records Management for Municipal Governments” and upon Billingsley’s recommendation. Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said the change will save server space and thus money for the system and that only time such emails are needed for a longer period of time are in cases of litigation and that they can be recovered for that. The above policies and others approved are final, but two more — one a new code of ethics and the other charter schools policy, both needed to comply with Tennessee law — will undergo a second and final reading in June.

Trial set to begin in deputy hit case -

The attempted murder trial for three people accused of running down a Washington County sheriff’s deputy more than a year ago while they were allegedly trying to evade arrest from a robbery is scheduled to begin with jury selection Monday.

Dalvin Stephens, 20; Reginald Dewayne Smith, 43; and Ashley Nicole McGraw, 19, all of Johnson City, are charged with attempted first-degree murder and attempted aggravated robbery.

Smith faces additional charges of unlawful possession of a weapon and tampering with evidence. Stephens faces additional charges of reckless endangerment, evading arrest and leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries.


Cherokee robotics team built Frisbee-throwing robot for competition -

ROGERSVILLE — A group of Hawkins County high school students demonstrated for the Board of Education last week that aside from learning “Reading, Writing and ’Rithmetic” — their education over the past school year also encompassed robots.

Cherokee High School’s FIRST Robotics Team had a busy day Tuesday, first traveling to Chattanooga to demonstrate their Frisbee-throwing robot for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The team arrived back in Rogersville Tuesday evening just in time to attend the Hawkins County Board of Education meeting for another demonstration and to be recognized for recent accomplishments at a regional robotics competition.

The FIRST Robotics Competition Smoky Mountain Regional was held March 28-30 in Knoxville where the CHS team finished 24th out of 53 competitors, and notched a head-to-head match record of 6-4.

CHS Vocational Principal Bob Edens, who was one of the team’s faculty advisers, told the BOE Tuesday the group overcame some computer glitches to have a respectable finish in the competition.

“The kids have done an excellent job this year,” Edens said. “We didn’t do as good this year as we did last year. We had a few computer problems when we got there. ... The kids persevered.”

Participation in Cherokee’s robotics team was higher this year than last year, and Edens said he expects it to be even higher next year.

He said some local engineers gave the team a few pointers, but for the most part every component of the robot was designed by the team.

Edens added, “Every year we get a different thing to do. This year we had Frisbees we had to shoot into three, two or one points, and we had a pyramid that we had to climb. ... It’s quite a deal because we’ve got (compressed) air, electric, two or three motors, belt drives, and this thing had to be designed. We didn’t get a pattern to build this. Everything you see is something that someone came up with and created.”

Among the members of the CHS FIRST Robotics Team are team captain Michael Jones; co-captains Logan Lee, Zack Lawson, Kacey Seals, Taylor Seals, Ben Voorhees and Jonathon Hughes; and members Austin Conkin, Peyton Lawson, Dallas Benward, Elijah Sells, Kyleigh Ferguson, Nick Karig, Nick Davis, Josh Brooks, Makenna West, Giovanni Ciazza, Brooks Robinson, Michell Carlson, Caleb McBride, Caleb Bunch

The team advisers include Edens; teachers Jeff Hobbs, Dewey Ferguson and Matt Dalton; and engineering mentor Dennis White.

PERFECT: Sullivan South junior aces ACT -

KINGSPORT — Taylor Pinto made a 34 out of a possible 36 ACT score his sophomore year of high school.

He at first thought about letting that be his final try at the test.

After all, that was an improvement over his score of 26 his seventh-grade year on the college entrance exam.

But Taylor, a junior at Sullivan South, decided with some input from his mother to try the test one more time during the mandatory but free ACT test for juniors.

And when he got back home April 6 from a spring break trip to San Diego, he had a perfect score of 36 waiting on him.

“It was when I first got home from spring break,” Taylor, 17, said of getting his perfect score, which marked a composite of 36 on all four subject areas. “I was hoping to do better than a 34 because that’s what I got my sophomore year. ”

About a week later, he got a letter from the ACT confirming the perfect score and telling him he was among a group of less than one-tenth of 1 percent who took the ACT and scored a 36.

The ACT is a curriculum- and standards-based educational and career planning tool that assesses students’ academic readiness for college. It consists of tests in English, math, reading and science, ranked on a scale of 1 to 36.

Among the graduating class of 2012 in the United States who took the test, 781 of more than 1.66 million students earned a composite score of 36.

“The main reason I took this one is it was the one paid for by the school,” he said. “My mom wanted to see if I could make a 36 since I was fairly close last time.”

“I didn’t do any special preparation for it,” Taylor said. “I think the thing that helped the most is good reading skills. I love reading.”

He said reading quickly and with broad comprehension helps a lot on the ACT.

His favorite subject is math. He’s in pre-calculus this year and plans on taking Advanced Placement calculus his senior year, hopefully along with AP physics and AP chemistry. He said he plans on taking Jumpstart English, a dual enrollment program through Northeast State Community College.

Offers and communications from colleges were coming in by email or regular mail before he received his perfect score, sometimes in groups of three or four emails a day and a handful of letters in the U.S. mail.

However, he’s already tentatively narrowed his choices for college to Vanderbilt University or Duke University, with a likely major of either engineering or c h e m i s t r y.

He plans on visiting Vanderbilt this summer and possibly other colleges.

Extra- and co-curricular activities include band and swimming. He plays the marimba, basically a large xylophone, and was the percussion section leader this year for marching band, in which he plays cymbals.

The band has been invited to perform in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia.

In addition, he is on the swim team and hopes to qualify for the state swimming competition in the butterfly and breast stroke during his senior year.

“Band takes up a lot of time, especially in the fall,” Taylor said. In addition to visiting colleges this summer, he said he also hopes to get a job as a life guard.

Before South, he attended Colonial Heights Middle and Miller Perry Elementary schools.

He is the son of Vicky and Timothy Pinto of Colonial Heights.

His older brother is a senior in college due to graduate soon with an electrical engineering degree, while his sister is in her first year of medical school.

“He’s a great player,” South band director Kenneth Carrico said. “Obviously, he’s a great student.”

This week in crime -

Former Kingsport pastor sentenced for solicitation of aggravated statutory rape

A former Kingsport pastor has been sentenced to approximately one year in jail for his sexually explicit texts and phone calls to a 16-year-old girl.

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Brothers allegedly lead police on pursuit, dump stolen vehicle in Kingsport

A pair of brothers allegedly led multiple police agencies in a high-speed pursuit Monday, driving into oncoming traffic on U.S. Route 23 before dumping a stolen pickup truck in Kingsport

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Police: Rogersville woman brough granddaughter, 8, to drug deal

A Hawkins County grandmother is facing drug and child neglect charges after allegedly bringing her 8-year-old granddaughter to make a drug deal Tuesday evening at a Rogersville restaurant parking lot.

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Drugs, cash, guns, vehicles seized from Rogersville man accused of drug trafficking

Hawkins County deputies seized drugs, cash, guns and several vehicles Thursday from a Rogersville man accused of trafficking large quantities of pills.

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Bristol, Tenn. man arrested for allegedly stealing from teacher on field trip

A Bristol, Tenn. man was arrested on theft charges late last week after he allegedly stole a Sullivan County teacher's debit card while she was on a field trip with her class at a local park.

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Kingsport men arrested after allegedly fleeing Hawkins authorities twice in one day

Two Kingsport men nabbed after a high-speed police pursuit from Rogersville to Morristown late Thursday night had allegedly been in another police pursuit earlier that day and had gotten away.

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Kingsport man arrested in alleged roofing scam

A Kingsport man has been arrested on felony theft charges after allegedly scamming a 65-year-old city resident out of nearly $3,500.

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Scott County man gets prison time for false murder accusation

A Nickelsville man was ordered to serve over three years in prison Monday following his earlier conviction in Scott County Circuit Court for falsely accusing another man of murder.

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Former Southwest Virginia police officer sentenced for sending sexual messages to teen

A former police officer for the town of Coeburn will spend the next year in prison after he was sentenced Friday in Scott County Circuit Court for using Facebook to solicit sex from a minor.

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Home invasion nets Mount Carmel man 15 years

A Mount Carmel man accused in a 2011 home invasion was sentenced to 15 years Friday in Hawkins County Criminal Court in exchange for guilty pleas to multiple counts of robbery, kidnapping, assault and one rape.

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Red Cross director urges public to be prepared in case of tornado -

After devastating tornadoes hit parts of Greene, Washington and Sullivan counties in recent years, many people were asking: what could I have done to better prepare myself and my family?

There are many steps that can be taken to prepare for a tornado, and one step should be done before all others.

“The best thing we can do is prepare ahead of time,” said Glenda Bobalik, Northeast Tennessee executive director of the American Red Cross. “When we hear there’s a watch, we need to look at what our plan is and check our supplies.”

One of the most important things is to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning, and to have a plan in place for both.

A watch means conditions for a tornado are favorable while a warning means a tornado has been spotted.

If a tornado warning has been issued, Bobalik recommends going to the lowest level of your home and to the inner most room. If the home has only one level, go to the innermost room.

“You want as many walls between you and the outside as you can,” she said. “Like in my house, I live in a split foyer, so if I go in the center on the lower level, I’m actually at a straight shot to the front door, so that is not a good place.”

The reason is because flying debris could penetrate outer walls. The Red Cross also recommends staying away from all windows and outer doors.

Typically, bathrooms and closets make the best spots if a tornado hits.

If you would feel more comfortable going to someone else’s home in the event of an emergency, make plans for how to get over to that person’s house. It is not recommended to travel if there is a tornado warning.

Another key to preparing for a tornado is to have plenty of water on hand. Bottled water is good, but old soda bottles or milk jugs filled with tap water will work as well.

A battery-operated radio should be an essential item in a tornado supply kit. A radio would help keep track of all the latest developments with the storm and also prevent you from feeling isolated, Bobalik said.

Another important item is a flashlight. The Red Cross doesn’t recommend candles because of the chance for a house fire. If you take regular medications, make sure all of the medication is stored in one spot for quick access in an emergency.

A tornado can strike at any time, but the most severe weather that could lead to a tornado will happen between now and around June because of the changing weather patterns, Bobalik said.

If a tornado does strike, the Red Cross will be there to help.

“Our primary role is to make sure the people affected have shelter, have a place to stay, so we open shelters,” Bobalik said. “We make sure people have food so we provide meals, and we work with other agencies and groups to make these happen.”

For more tips on how to prepare yourself for a tornado or to make a plan for other disasters, visit the Red Cross’ website

Sullivan County's monthly sales tax collections down -

BLOUNTVILLE — Monthly sales tax collections across Sullivan County, and the subsequent revenue to local school systems and governments, remain down for the fiscal year to date, according to a report prepared by the county’s budget office.

Revenue figures are in for nine months of the current budget year. Monthly sales tax revenues have shown an increase in five of those nine months, but not enough to offset the decreases in the other four, including the most recent month’s revenue, which posted a more than 6 percent drop from the same month a year before.

The nine-month total is not as bad, showing a less than 1 percent cumulative drop compared to the same period a year before.

The countywide total of about $35.32 million since the fiscal year began July 1 represents a $172,552 drop compared to the same nine-month period last year.

Sales tax revenues come back to the localities two months after they are collected by local merchants. February sales tax collections, for example, came back as revenue to Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Bluff City and Johnson City — as well as to the three school systems in the county — in April.

Sales tax revenues are generated when money is spent on goods and services at businesses throughout the county and its cities. When a consumer pays sales tax locally, it is sent to the state, which redistributes it back to the county and its cities based on collection site.

Local option sales tax revenues are split 50/50 — with half going to school systems in the county and the other half going to the local government where the collecting business is located.

Each $1 of local option sales taxes collected in Kingsport, for example, generates 50 cents for the county’s three school systems (the money is split based on average daily attendance) and 50 cents for city coffers.

From the budget office’s report:

• The city of Kingsport’s non-school share of taxes for the nine-month period totals nearly $11.4 million — up about $81,000 from same time last year.

• The Kingsport City Schools system’s share is at about $5.3 million, up about $162,000 compared to last year.

• The city of Bristol’s non-school share so far totals nearly $3.9 million, up about $282,000 compared to last year.

• The Bristol City Schools system’s share totals about $3.28 million, up $12,000 compared to last year.

• Sullivan County’s portion for sales taxes generated outside the cities totals $2.19 million, down $441,0000 compared to a year ago. That’s a nearly 17 percent drop in sales tax revenue for the county budget.

• The Sullivan County Schools system’s share totals $9.07 million, down $260,000 compared to last year.

• Bluff City’s share totals about $111,000, down about $7,000 compared to last year.

U.S. News & World Report gives Sullivan South bronze ranking, researching D-B -

KINGSPORT — Sullivan South High School has brought home the academic bronze.

And Dobyns-Bennett High School might have been at the silver level and possibly in the top 10 or so statewide if it were not for more than 240 middle school students taking high school algebra I, a city school official said.

U.S. News & World Report’s national rankings of high schools for 2013, released April 23, has given South a bronze ranking nationally, although South did not rank in the top 23 schools statewide.

Out of all Tennessee high schools, five were awarded gold medals, 18 silver and 66 bronze.

“I’m glad we’re headed in the right direction,” Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said. “The question is we need all our (Sullivan County) schools in the right shape.”

In the top 23 high schools, the only Tri-Cities schools to make that list was University School of Washington County in Johnson City at No. 12 and Johnson City’s Science Hill at 19. Both those, and the top 23 out of 350 Tennessee high schools, ranked silver nationally.

Detailed information and explanations of the rankings are available at The rankings are based on 2010-11 data.

Andy True, spokesman for the Kingsport system, said that one of the filters U.S. News rankings use is algebra I scores, and that the scores of seventh- and eighth-graders who take high school algebra I are not counted toward D-B.

This year, he said 242 middle-schoolers are taking high school algebra I, which he said was a larger percentage than most systems.

In 2011-12, True said of 240 students in the middle schools enrolled in algebra I, one was absent, but out of the 239 that tested, 238 were proficient or advanced. That resulted in 99.6 percent proficient.

“Based on the metrics used by U.S. News, we don’t get ‘credit’ for almost 240 students (99 percent plus being proficient) that are skilled enough to test proficient in algebra I before they reach high school, ” True said.

A spokesman for U.S. News contacted Wednesday, Director of Data Research Robert J. Morse, indicated the publication would research the issue and respond, which is what True indicated a magazine official also told school officials.

“We’re actually seeking clarity from them,” True said of U.S. News officials. “All of those (middle school end-of-course test) scores get lost because that doesn’t track to D-B.”

He said the city system does what it believes is best for students regardless of outside rankings and that D-B’s situation in no way should take away from the achievements of other high schools.

Kingsport City Schools uses a unified math track for higher achieving students, who can begin in seventh grade with freshman algebra I, and he said eighth-graders can take algebra I even if not in unified math.

“If you don’t get past the hurdle of algebra I, you don’t even get the analysis taken in the other issues,” True said. “I think that we’d be at the top 10 in the state if we cleared that first hurdle.”

The No. 1 school in Tennessee, ranked 37th nationally, was the Hume-Fogg Academic High School in Metropolitan Davidson County/Nashville. It was a ranked gold school.

Across East Tennessee, Oak Ridge near Knoxville was 6th, while Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville was 10th, Morristown West 16th and Greeneville 18th.

Nationwide, that put University School at No. 1,148 and Science Hill at No. 1,704.

Tennessee schools below the top 23 — including South — were not numerically ranked statewide or nationwide.

D-B, Science Hill and University High ranked well in college readiness compared to other area high schools, as measured by the percentage of students who take Advanced Placement exams and pass the test. They were ranked 29.5, 21.6 and 29.2, respectively.

South got a 6.0 in college readiness, compared to 1.4 for Sullivan North High, 2.5 for Sullivan Central and 3.1 for Sullivan East. Bristol’s Tennessee High got a 4.3. Hume Fogg was 92.9.

In algebra proficiency, South got a 2.8, compared to 2.0 for North, 2.2 for Central, 2.3 for East, 2.6 for D-B — a number True said does not include the middle-schoolers taking algebra I — and 2.9 for Tennessee High.

University School was at 3.5 and Science Hill 2.9. Hume-Fogg was 3.8.

In English proficiency, the numbers were 2.8 for South, D-B and Tennessee High, 2.2 for North, and 2.5 for Central and East. Hume Fogg was 3.4.

University School was at 3.3 and Science Hill 2.9.

And in student-teacher ratios, South was 17:1, compared to 13:1 at North, 14:1 at Tennessee High, 15:1 at East and D-B and 16:1 for Central. Hume-Fogg was 20:1.

University School was at 15:1 and Science Hill 16:1.

Tennessee, according to the U.S. News website, had 301,046 students in 123 districts served by 18,659 teachers in 2010-11.

Sullivan County Sheriff's Office now has collection bin for unwanted medication -

BLOUNTVILLE — Unwanted medications now have their own special place at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Tennessee Department of Health have placed a collection bin for old medications at the sheriff’s department and at nearly 40 other locations across the state.

“This joint effort with local law enforcement agencies and the Department of Health is important to educate citizens on the appropriate disposal of pharmaceuticals, while increasing the number of locations for them to do so,” TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said in a prepared release. “We need to make Tennessee’s citizens aware that throwing medication away with the household garbage or flushing it is not a safe method of disposal. These additional permanent collection drop-off boxes offer Tennesseans a safe and viable disposal option to keep drugs out of our water and off the streets.”

As part of TDEC’s new program, permanent collection bin recipients were chosen from applications submitted by local law enforcement agencies in return for their commitment to secure and monitor the bins. TDEC also will require a monthly report on the total of pounds collected.

“We are pleased to partner with TDEC to provide more safe places for disposal of unwanted medications that all too often have been the cause of harm from poisoning to abuse to death,” Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said of the initiative. “Through these efforts and the efforts of our sister agency, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, there are now convenient places across our state where average citizens can be a part of the solution to this vexing challenge.”

TDEC sponsors both the new permanent collection sites and temporary collection events throughout the year.

For communities interested in becoming a permanent drop-off location, contact Kathy Glapa in TDEC’s Office of Sustainable Practices at 615-253-8780 or  . For more information about the Pharmaceutical Collection Program, including a complete list of participating counties and acceptable or non-acceptable items, go  ment/osp/gi/unwantedrx  .

TDEC points out nearly 90 percent of Americans improperly dispose of outdated or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

The practice of flushing drugs is being questioned because of concerns about trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But FDA noted the main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medications and then naturally passing them through their bodies.

Still, the FDA added that when a drug contains instructions to flush it down the toilet, it’s because the agency working with the manufacturer has determined this method to be the most appropriate route of disposal presenting the least safety risk.

City BOE endorses bid for Jackson Elementary secure entrance -

KINGSPORT — Jackson Elementary School’s new secure entrance is a step closer to construction, as are repairs to the cracked tennis court surface at Dobyns-Bennett High School.

The Board of Education at its regular Thursday night meeting recommended low bids for those and other projects.

“That’s a relief for the board to finally have a (new secure entrance) solution for Jackson,” Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said.

The Jackson project for a redesigned front entrance was part of a combined low bid of $380,640 from Beuris Construction, grouping it with other projects where Beuris was also the low bidder that would have cost an extra $11,600 individually.

All city schools have a locked entrance requiring buzz in, but Jackson and Cora Cox Academy are the last two lacking a redesigned entrance.

Separated, the Jackson secure entrance was $297,520, while a Johnson cooler/freezer and other work was $105,000 and a Lincoln cooler/freezer and other work was $170,400.

Those amounts include estimates for the actual freezers and coolers because no bids were received and they will be rebid and up for Board of Mayor and Aldermen approval in June. Finance director David Frye said a short time frame and miscommunications caused the lack of bids but that both would be addressed in the rebid.

The BOE recommended approving the $380,6540 bid plus a 6 percent contingency of $22,839. It and other bids will have to win approval from the BMA.

As for previously approved projects, Ailshie and David Carper, facilities supervisor, said the conversion of Legion Center to Reserve Officer Training Corps use and resurfacing of the Robinson Middle School parking lots should begin soon. In addition, Carper said the new lights for the J. Fred Johnson football stadium should start to go up around May 11.

However, the pending bid package for the J. Fred Johnson stadium expansion and renovation — to cost an estimated $4.2 million — won’t go out for another two weeks or so, Ailshie said. He said officials are looking at making some changes to the foundation specifications for potential cost savings.

The BOE also approved a tennis court surface repair low bid of $39,607 from Competition Athletic Surfaces, with a contingency of $6,376, which is a 6 percent contingency of $2,376 plus an extra $4,000.

The bid includes 1,750 linear feet of taping over surface cracks, but the extra contingency is to go toward possible additional taping at $15 per linear foot.

Carper said resurfacing the court would cost $100,000 and a complete redo more. He said the repairs in the low bid should last three to 10 years.

In the long term, school officials are looking at possibly relocating and expanding the tennis facilities.

As for the proposed 2013-14 general purpose school budget of just more than $67.1 million, which asks the city to increase its appropriation by $1,811,105, from about $9.1 million to $11,612,505, it will go before the BMA at 3:30 p.m. Monday in the upstairs conference room at city hall.

The federal projects fund is $4,405,423, while the special projects fund is $1,076,458.

Relative wants answers in WCDC inmate's death -

A relative of a Johnson City man who died while custody at the Washington County Detention Center this week wants answers about his death.

Alan Sieckman, grandfather of Stewart W. Peppers, 22, 606 Swadley Road, No. 46, said there are things he’s heard about his grandson’s death that don’t make sense. Sieckman, from California, contacted the Johnson City Press Friday to speak about his grandson’s death and to press for answers.

He has received no official information regarding his grandson’s death other than through media reports, though he has heard information about Peppers’ treatment at the jail.


Aquatic center memberships lag far behind Y sign-ups -

KINGSPORT — More than 1,200 people have joined the YMCA since December in the lead-up to the opening of its new facility. By comparison, less than 50 people have joined the Kingsport Aquatic Center since the city first started accepting memberships back in March.

In less than two weeks, the Kingsport Aquatic Center and the YMCA Wellmont Center are expected to be open for business. People have the option to just join the aquatic center and have year-round access to the indoor and outdoor pools and water features, or they could join the YMCA, which includes full access to the aquatic center.

In reaction to the disparity, Mayor Dennis Phillips said the numbers concern him, but they do not panic him. Phillips continued by saying the YMCA has been making a strong push for memberships on television and in other media.

“And I think in the case of the aquatic center, it’s going to be hard for the average person to know what it really is until they go out there and see it,” Phillips said. “Very few people have been inside and they’ll truly be amazed when they see it.”

Charlie Glass, executive director of the YMCA, said the main advantage for the YMCA has been its previous presence in the community.

“We have been planning a new facility, including a pool, for at least the 18 years I’ve been here. We have always known, and counted on the fact, that when we opened, there would be new membership growth,” Glass said. “There’s no question that our new facility is getting more people excited and interested, but we’ve made huge strides in communicating our cause to the community at large during the past several months.

“We are confident (aquatic center) numbers will dramatically increase after the opening of the facility.”

The original idea behind the aquatic center project was for Kingsport to co-locate its facility with the YMCA and for the YMCA to manage both facilities with city officials saying the move would save Kingsport money on operating expenses. However, last September, Kingsport dissolved the management agreement with the YMCA, again saying the move would save the city money.

Today, Kingsport and the YMCA will each foot the bill for their respective facilities, though the YMCA will still pay Kingsport 10 percent of its membership dues for access to the aquatic center.

Some members of the community and a couple of city aldermen at the time the decision was made said co-location was creating an unfair advantage for the YMCA. Eastman Chemical Co. donated the 15.8-acre site to the city for the project and the YMCA pays a nominal yearly lease to the city.

Stan Pace, owner of Gold Star Fitness, has long complained about co-location, saying the YMCA is the greatest competitor he has.

“Up to this point, we are noticing very little mention of the aquatics center from our members,” Pace said. “But I hope it does well and is not a long-term financial burden on the community.”

Phillips said what effect the aquatic center will have on other fitness centers in town is a hard question to answer.

“Are we being unfair to the other places? I don’t know. It certainly depends on who you ask. Are we taking away some (members) from other fitness center? We probably are,” Phillips said.

Stan Johnson, owner of the Great Body Company, said he has not noticed much of a difference in membership this spring, adding if anyone has left it has been strictly for the use of the aquatic center.

Johnson said he is working with the city on an arrangement for GBC members to have access to the aquatic center.

“We feel that the GBC has an integral part to play in bridging the gap between health care and fitness in our community. GBC and the aquatics center have the ability to partner in this important role,” Johnson said.

The $26 million development is one of the largest quality of life projects undertaken by the city and has generated quite a bit of buzz in recent months among YMCA members, on the Internet, and in the media, and within the community as a whole. The project has been more than five years in the making, with many ups and downs, including some controversy over the location, partnering with the YMCA and the overall cost of the facility.

Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, said the city has received calls every day from the public about swimming lessons and party rentals along with membership questions.

“We’re not open yet and less than 200 people have walked through the facility and seen it,” McCartt said. “Unlike the YMCA or other fitness facilities that have been open and had a presence, we’re new. It’s a new venture for the city.”

City officials are estimating the aquatic center will have a yearly budget of $1 million, which includes a $300,000 subsidy from the city (out of the regional sales tax fund). McCartt said the budget would include $150,000 from the YMCA — 10 percent of its membership dues.

Ideally, Kingsport would like to see more aquatic center members, as it would be able to recoup all of those revenues, rather than just the 10 percent of membership revenues from the YMCA.

McCartt said membership revenue is a bigger piece of the pie, but noted other activities (rentals, lessons) bring in revenue for the city. Plus, the aquatic center, much like the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center, has indirect benefits to the city, McCartt said, through tourism and nearby development.

“Right out of the gate, it’s hard for us to give an answer (on the subsidy). Six months from now we’ll have a better answer, and in a couple of a years we’ll really nail it down,” McCartt said. “We hope memberships come, that we gain revenue through programming, and we still feel confident that we have a high-quality product that’s unique and one of a kind in our region.”

TBI arrests Greene County couple in infant daughter's death -

GREENEVILLE — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrested a Greene County couple Friday on murder and other charges stemming from the death of their infant daughter in September 2012.

The couple was indicted by a Greene County grand jury on Wednesday.

Stephen Jennings, 24, of Greeneville was indicted on one count of first-degree murder, one count of aggravated child neglect and one count of aggravated child abuse in the death of his 8-month-old daughter, Abby Jennings. The infant’s mother, Pooja Jennings, 24, of Chuckey, was indicted on one count of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated child neglect.

On September 17, 2012, Abby Jennings was picked up by Greene County EMS at her mother’s residence located at 1416 Fairview Road and transported to Laughlin Hospital, where she had bruising on various parts of her body and was unresponsive. The same day, she was transported to Johnson City Medical Center and died on September 18.

Witnesses advised that Abby had bruising on her body and was lethargic after returning from visiting her father Stephen in his Greeneville residence on September 14. Pooja did not seek medical treatment for the child after she was returned to her residence and in her care throughout the weekend. The couple is married, but are separated and not living together.

The 3rd Judicial District Attorney General’s office requested TBI to investigate the case with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.

Stephen and Pooja Jennings were booked into the Greene County Jail today on $1,000,000 bond each.

Former Southwest Virginia police officer sentenced for sending sexual messages to teen -

GATE CITY — A former police officer for the town of Coeburn will spend the next year in prison after he was sentenced Friday in Scott County Circuit Court for using Facebook to solicit sex from a minor.

Edward Shane Kiser, 28, Retford Road, Coeburn, was given a five-year prison sentence by 30th Circuit Court Judge John Kilgore with all but one year suspended. Kiser was also ordered to submit to six months of home electronic monitoring following his release.

Kiser was also required by the court to register as a sex offender.

Scott County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcus McClung said Kiser’s sentence exceeded state guidelines, which called for no jail time to be given.

“The judge ignored the state guidelines and went ahead and sentenced him,” McClung said.

McClung said he felt Kiser’s actions betrayed the trust members of the public place in law enforcement officers.

“We were really disgusted with this case because it was a law enforcement officer,” McClung said. “I work with law enforcement officers everyday who put their lives on the line, and for this officer to have sworn to protect us and then to try and solicit sex from this little girl, it disgusts me.”

During Friday’s hearing, Kiser was called to the stand by prosecutors. During his testimony, Kiser reportedly tried to attribute his actions to an undercover operation that was working to take down a prostitution ring.

Scott County prosecutors countered those claims by calling a Virginia State Police special agent to the stand and having him read several of Kiser’s Facebook messages to his victim, one of which asked the girl if she would “let him hit it.”

“At no time was there anything that you would do during an undercover operation, such as asking how much money or any of those things,” McClung said. “He also failed to mention that in his interview with police and none of his superiors showed up to verify this was an undercover investigation. His statement this morning was the first time we had heard of that.”

Virginia State Police arrested Kiser in August 2012 following a week-long investigation that began when the girl’s parents contacted Scott County authorities.

Kiser was a member of the Coeburn Police Department when he began sending the sexually explicit messages, but he resigned from the force roughly a week before being taken into custody.

McClung said his office prosecuted the case because the girl who received the messages lived in Scott County at the time.

Authorities said Kiser met the girl last year when he was investigating a noise complaint involving juveniles at a gas station in Coeburn.

Kiser reportedly learned the girl’s identity as a result of the incident, which allowed him to identify her profile on the social networking website Facebook.

After finding her profile, Kiser used Facebook to carry on what the prosecution described as a “long conversation” in which he asked the girl to perform sexual acts with him.

A large portion of that conversation was actually carried out between Kiser and an undercover VSP special agent who had been given permission by the girl’s parents to assume control of her Facebook profile.

Kiser reportedly communicated unknowingly with the special agent for nearly a week before being arrested.

Kingsport man arrested in alleged roofing scam -

A Kingsport man has been arrested on felony theft charges after allegedly scamming a 65-year-old city resident out of nearly $3,500.

Police records state the suspect presented himself as a roofing contractor to the victim, agreeing more than a year ago to put in a skylight at his rental property. He collected his payments and agreed to begin construction shortly thereafter, according to an incident report, but never showed up again.

On Thursday morning Jeffrey Lynn Combs, 38, of 1565 Greenfield Ave., turned himself in to Kingsport police. In February on this year the victim of the alleged scam contacted investigators, claiming he and Combs had entered into an agreement in January of 2012.

A total of $3,492.53 in payments were allegedly given to Combs. The victim said that each time he contacted Combs he always "promised" to soon begin work at the property on Willowbrook Drive. In his February report to police, the victim said he had been unable to reach Combs since July or August.

KPD detectives obtained a warrant charging Combs with theft of more than $1,000, a felony offense. He reportedly agreed to come to the police department Thursday, was arrested and booked into the city jail.

Johnson City police release ECU robbery details, photo -

JOHNSON CITY — On Friday, May 3, 2013, at approximately 10:22 a.m., the Eastman Credit Union Branch located at 4307 N. Roan Street, Suite # 1, Johnson City was robbed.

A white male subject, approximately 6’0” tall and weighing between 150-160 pounds walked into the branch and demanded money from one of the tellers. The male was wearing a purple long sleeve shirt and dark colored pants with what appeared to be socks covering his hands. The suspect was also wearing a black and orange Baltimore Orioles baseball style cap. The male then exited the bank after obtaining an undisclosed amount of cash and fled on foot toward Carroll Creek Road.

Anyone having any information about this incident or the possible identity of the suspect is asked to contact the Johnson City Criminal Investigation Division at 434-6166 or Crimestoppers at 434-6158.

Information can also be submitted anonymously by texting 423JCPD and your tip to 847411 (TIP411) or via the internet at


Johnson City police investigators have scheduled a press conference for today at 2:45 p.m. to release details from this morning's Eastman Credit Union branch robbery in Boones Creek.

The Johnson City Press has a reporting team at the press conference at City Hall.

Keep visiting for details as they become available.


The Eastman Credit Union branch in Boones Creek was robbed this morning.

A Washington County 911 dispatcher said the robbery took place at the North Roan Street location this morning and referred all inquiries to Johnson City police.

The branch is located at 4307 N. Roan St. in the same plaza with Food City and Simms Pizzeria.


Mountain States, Vanderbilt to work together in NE Tennessee, SW Virginia -

Leaders of Mountain States Health Alliance and Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced this morning that they had signed an affiliation agreement affecting health care for residents of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

“We are pleased to announce this mutual affiliation between Vanderbilt and MSHA,” Dennis Vonderfecht, Mountain States president and CEO, said in a news release. “This announcement represents the culmination of a three-year search process that MSHA leadership has undertaken, driven by the rapid changes taking place in our health care industry today.

"As part of our 10-year strategic plan, we have been diligently seeking a partner outside of our region who shares our vision for the future as well as our culture of quality and cost effectiveness. We believe we have found that partner in Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”


School budget request to BMA now at $11.6 million -

KINGSPORT — City school leaders have cut a 2013-14 budget shortfall from $3.2 million to about $1.8 million.

They did it mostly with cuts in proposed expenditures — including a reduction of the proposed raises from 2 percent to 1.5 percent and whittling down the number of teacher coaches proposed to be added back to the system — along with a minor increase in revenue estimates.

The Board of Education voted 5-0 at its regular meeting Thursday night to approve a general purpose school budget of $67,104,755. In the simplest of terms, the budget is based on about $1.5 million in projected revenue growth and a $3,342,201 million increase in expenditures, with the school board formally requesting the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to make up the $1,811,105 with an increased appropriation — from $9.801 million to $11,612,505.

“I’m impressed you got it down to a palatable number,” BOE Vice President Carrie Upshaw said, to which BOE member Andy King added, “I think it’s a very, very reasonable budget for the city.”

The budget is to be presented to the BMA at a Monday work session.

“If we don’t get some significant assistance from the city, our school system is going to take a significant step backward,” Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said.

On the revenue side, some incremental changes were made, including increasing the local option sales tax projection to reflect a 4 percent $28,000 increase instead of a lower increase of $4,000. Budget director David Frye said the state is using a 3.5 percent increase estimate for sales tax, while Kingsport is using a 5 percent estimate.

Given that school funding is based on a 50 percent share of the local option sales taxes across Sullivan County and its cities, not just in Kingsport, Frye said 4 percent was a reasonable estimate.

Other revenues remain about where they were at a mid-April BOE work session.

On the revenue side, however, going from a 2 percent to 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise saved $212,500 for a total pay increase cost of $1.15 million.

Additional costs for increased enrollment were $680,200, including the hiring of six new regular education teachers instead of the draft plan that called for seven; an increase of $226,950 for Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee; $92,000 for four special education assistants cut from federal funding and half an office assistant for student records.

Fixed operations costs were listed as $687,700, including a health insurance 7.5 percent increase of $233,000.

Those all add up to $2,837,350.

Beyond that, for safety and security there would be one, instead of the previously proposed two, additional school resource officer for $65,000, to be added to Cora Cox Academy; academic program enhancements of $644,950, including six instructional technology specialists, formerly known as academic coaches, at a cost of $375,600 instead of about twice that for 13; and two Chinese teachers for $53,000 instead of four.

“It is a challenge for us to try to stay at the top,” BOE member Susan Lodal said of meeting mandates, expectations and goals.

The other parts of the school budget are a self-supporting school nutrition budget of $3.282 million; a federal projects fund of $4,405,443; and a school special projects fund of $1,076,458,

Sullivan mayor 'preaches' against Obama, gay NBA player and other stories you may have missed -

The following are some interesting stories you may have missed last week on

Sullivan mayor 'preaches' against Obama, gay NBA player
To mark National Day of Prayer, Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey took to a makeshift pulpit Thursday, feet from his office in the Sullivan County Courthouse, to preach against President Obama for “embarrassing us” with a “disgraceful” telephone call to National Basketball Association player Jason Collins. Read more:

$320,000 cyberheist sparks lawsuit against Kingsport-based bank
A nearly $328,000 cyberheist from a local contractor’s bank account has resulted in a lawsuit filed in Sullivan County Circuit Court against a Kingsport-based bank. Read more:

Calhoun's, Smoky Mountain Brewery among tenants announced for Bristol, Va., development
Officials with the City of Bristol, Virginia announced Thursday that three restaurants and a travel center will join anchor, Cabela's, at The Falls Development at Exit 5. In a joint meeting between City Council and the Industrial Development Authority, purchase agreements and contracts were executed today with Calhoun's, Smoky Mountain Brewery, Zaxby's and Sheetz. Read more:

Unsung heroes: Dispatchers serve as community's lifeline
In moments of crisis they’re the calming voice on the other end of the line, channeling an air of stability and order to the panicked. Read more:

Eastman declares quarterly cash dividend of 30 cents per share
Eastman Chemical Co. declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.30 per share on the company’s common stock following its annual stockholders meeting Thursday. Read more:

The new house call: Tech changes way doctors, patients communicate
Dr. Steven Adkins was in Target on a Saturday night when his cell phone rang. One of his patients had finally broken out in the rash that Adkins was expecting. The patient sent a photo of the rash to Adkins, he diagnosed her with shingles and called in a prescription for her. Read more:

Hawkins Foster Care Review Board to meet in courthouse because of security concerns
Hawkins County’s Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) will be using a conference room in the Justice Center from now on so that it can utilize the metal detectors and sheriff’s deputies for security during potentially volatile hearings. Read more:

Abby Rike: There Is Life After Tragedy
Abby Rike had a great life – until her beloved husband and their two small children were killed in a car wreck in 2006. Read more:

Celebrities join opposition to animal abuse bill in Tennessee
Celebrities including Emmylou Harris and Ellen DeGeneres are joining the opposition to an animal abuse bill in Tennessee that is waiting for the governor's signature. Read more: