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Letcher County had its share of interesting news in 2016




BARE BUT BEAUTIFUL — While the mountains are now bare of green growth for the winter, they are still beautiful, especially on the unexpectedly warm and sunny December days we’ve had recently. Cooler temperatures are headed this way soon, however, falling to a forecast low of 28 degrees on Friday before rebounding to a high of 60 degrees next Monday. (Eagle photo)

BARE BUT BEAUTIFUL — While the mountains are now bare of green growth for the winter, they are still beautiful, especially on the unexpectedly warm and sunny December days we’ve had recently. Cooler temperatures are headed this way soon, however, falling to a forecast low of 28 degrees on Friday before rebounding to a high of 60 degrees next Monday. (Eagle photo)

Following is a recap of all the top stories covered by staff members of The Mountain Eagle during the year of 2016. The list appears in chronological order.

January

6 — County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he had not given up on recycling, after the fiscal court shut down the county recycling center and laid off its three employees; Allen Taylor, 17, of Seco, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the death of a four-month-old baby.

13 — The Whitesburg City Council voted to take over the county recycling plant, which was closed a week earlier; LCCHS football Coach Mike Halcomb resigned after three seasons. Halcomb was one of Kentucky’s winningest high school football coaches.

20 — With an astounding 58 points for the game, Whitney Creech still wasn’t enough to save Jenkins High School’s win against Breathitt County in the Girls’ 14th Regional All ‘A’ Classic; The Letcher County Fiscal Court voted to reinstate a $300 monthly expense account. The vote was three to two, with magistrates Bobby Howard, Woody Holbrook and Keith Adams voting in favor, and magistrates Wayne Fleming and Terry Adams voting against. The magistrates were authorized to receive a $300 “committee expense” check, and up to $300 in mileage.

27 — The Mountain Eagle learned that only one of the two $300 expense accounts approved the fiscal court the previous week appears to be legal. State law does not authorize a mileage reimbursement; Even with eight days of school cancelations already because of inclement weather, the Letcher County Board of Education still expected to end classes by mid-May.

February

3 — Jenkins High School girls basketball standout Whitney Creech scored a career high and state-recordsetting 71 points in leading the Cavaliers to victory over Paintsville. Creech set the new high school career record 4,948 points;

10 — The Whitesburg City Council approved a change in its alcoholic beverage control ordinance to make it easier for businesses to sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays during special events; The Fleming-Neon City Council voted to raise sanitation fees; Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. closed his Neon dental office and retired after 40 years of service.

17 — The number of coal mining jobs in Letcher County fell below 100 after the closing of Clark Mining Inc., leaving 10 more underground miners unemployed; A North Dakota man was charged with alcohol intoxication in a public place, second-degree disorderly conduct, shoplifting, resisting arrest, thirddegree assault on a police officer, third-degree criminal abuse, second-degree fleeing and evading and tampering with physical evidence after he allegedly stuffed Lego blocks down his pants in Walmart; the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted to rescind an earlier vote giving themselves and additional $300 per month in expense money that was not authorized under state law; Magistrates blasted Kentucky Power for rates that they said were too high for many resident to afford.

24 — Summit City, which had operated for nine years and featured musical performances by nationally known bands while attracting visitors from 41 states, announced it would close, and reopen with a different business model in two months. The announcement came after officials with the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control ruled that Summit City would be fined $20,000 for violating the requirements of its alcohol license.

March

2 — Doermann Memorial Presbyterian Church announced it would open its doors two days per week to provide a place for senior citizens to gather after the county closed down the Blackey Senior Center; State Rep. Leslie Combs praised efforts by county leaders to obtain a commitment to build a federal prison here.

9 — Work was nearly completed on two Whitesburg business buildings — the Shops at Pine Mountain, and the new East Kentucky Physical Therapy building; the Whitesburg City Council voted to remove the “alcohol tax” on food sold in restaurants with serve alcoholic beverages.

16 — The Neon Water Company said water in the city was safe to drink despite a letter about faulty equipment that was sent to customers; A Deane man was charged in 17 indictments after church funds were found to be missing; Mountain Tech Media, a diversified technology and media services company, launched at Appalshop in Whitesburg.

23 — An additional 3,966 Letcher County residents were enrolled in Medicaid the previous year as a result of Kentucky’s decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare; Hundreds of fish died in Pine Creek after contaminated water was from a retention pond on the property of an active deep mine.

April

6 — Whitesburg City Police say they will step up enforcement of city ordinances dealing with garbage/junk in yards and roaming dogs; Two women are charged with disorderly conduct after they were caught stealing sheets, towels, and washcloths at the Whitesburg hospital.

13 — The City of Jenkins regained one of its favorite old gathering places this week with the reopening of the Cavalier Drugstore & Cafe on Main Street; The Whitesburg City Council has approved plans for a May Festival in downtown Whitesburg next month; Letcher County fisherman Bobby Webb caught a trophy bass at Fishpond Lake. The 8 pound, 2 ounce female largemouth bass was kept alive by ANA Variety N More bait and tackle shop for inclusion in the state’s new “Trophy Bass Propagation Program.”

20 —Two of four people charged in January with making methamphetamine in a trailer at Sandlick have been indicted by the Letcher County Grand Jury; Several Thornton residents were left in a state of shock early Tuesday night after a man stopped his green ATV and gunned down two female wild turkeys that were grazing a few feet from a mobile home occupied by an 18-month-old girl and her parents; This year is expected to be the first in history hat more electricity will be generated from natural gas than coal.

27 — State officials say $45.5 million of the $71.5 million Letcher County will receive for road improvements under the state’s new two-year road plan will be spent for the widening of U.S. 119 from Jenkins to Whitesburg; Letcher County businessman Hubert Hall Sr., who owned and operated Hall Equipment & Supply Co. with his brother Carl, died Monday at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington; Local students taking Kentucky Community and Technical College courses may soon see tuition increases of up to $7 per credit hour; Enrollment in the Letcher County School System is down by 36 students, to 3,095, since August 2015; Students in the Jenkins School System will again attend the Letcher County Vocational School for vocational education after ending a similar relationship with the Wise County, Virginia school system; Work began this week on preparing the site in West Whitesburg for a new Taco Bell restaurant.

May

4 — Letcher County, where only 87 coal miners now work, didn’t lose or gain any mining jobs in the first quarter of 2016, but tonnage produced was up 13.8 percent ; The search continues for a new superintendent for the Jenkins Independent School System following the unexpected resignation last September of Freddie Bowling; More than 20 people were arrested on drug-related charged in Letcher County during the last week, most of them involving the manufacture and use of methamphetamine; Local fishermen Darrick Sexton and Paul Collins are the second and third men to donate a trophy bass to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ “Trophy Bass Propagation Program. The 8.5 pound and 8.7 pound female largemouth bass were caught at Fishpond Lake at Payne Gap and kept alive at the ANA Bait and Tackle Shop at Payne Gap; A moonshine still was seized at Kona after state Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators made three buys from the man charged with operating the still, Patrick Collier.

11 — Letcher County is one of the nation’s 50 most vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C from intravenous drug abuse, reports the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Mark Wright, agency manager for Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance in Letcher County, has been named 2015 Agency

Manager of the Year for District Five. It is Wright’s fifth such award.

18 — In a bid to get involved in the national debate over whether transgender citizens should be allowed to use bathroom facilities that match their gender identities, the Letcher Fiscal Court voted unanimously this week to direct County Attorney Jamie Hatton to determine whether the court can formally declare that Letcher County’s government will not comply with any law or regulation that opens public restrooms to transgendered people; City workers in Fleming-Neon will not receive pay raises in the coming year; Letcher County Democrat Angie Hatton and Pike County Republican Frank D. Justice II will vie for the office of state representative in the 94th District in the November General Election after the two won Tuesday’s May Primary; The Letcher County Fiscal Court declined this week to change the way in which scrap metal is collected at the county’s garbage transfer station at Millstone. The court voted 3-3 to defeat Magistrate Wayne Fleming’s motion that would have required the Letcher County Sanitation Department to start sending all the scrap metal it collects to the City of Whitesburg Recycling Center at Cowan, which was formerly operated by the county.

25 — Members of the Letcher Fiscal Court — the county’s legislative body — can’t agree on how to allocate funds from a Fiscal Year 2016-17 operating budget that will be $2.7 million less than its current budget set to expire June 30; Several Letcher County citizens attended an early-morning meeting of the Letcher Fiscal Court to state their opposition to a proposal that could result in a county ordinance regulating bathroom use in public and county-owned buildings; Employees at Enterprise Mining’s Roxana Coal Preparation Plant are being honored for passing 2,000 days without a “lost time” accident or a work-related incident required to be reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA); Staff members in the Jenkins Independent School System have been told not to expect pay raises during the coming year.

June

1 — Sixty-seven-year-old Diana Baldwin, the former Jenkins resident who shared the distinction of being the first woman to work as an underground coal miner, died Saturday after a long battle with lupus; Governor Matt Bevin is expected to soon appoint a temporary Letcher Circuit Court judge from a list of three nominees (attorneys Harold D. Bolling, James W. “Jimmy” Craft, and Darrell Hall) recommended by the local Judicial Nominated Commission; Funeral services were held Tuesday for Jenkins City Councilman Kyle Edward Walker, who died of cancer May 24; The Letcher County Board of Education has approved a projected operating budget of $33 million for the 2016-17 school year; A road dedication was held May 28 at Rocky Hollow Road in Burdine to honor the five Blankenship brothers — Franks, Gilbert, Maxwell, Willard, and the late Bennett Blankenship — who served in World War II; Black Bear Market is the name of a new pizzeria/ country store/dairy bar at Mayking.

8 — The City of Whitesburg/ Letcher County Farmer’s Market opened to brisk business Saturday, with farmers and vendors taking in $4,000 in sales; A new study finds that life expectancy in Letcher County is 72 years old, four years lower than the state average; Former Letcher County sheriff ’s deputy Brian Damron has been granted parole after serving less than one year of a five-year prison sentence imposed after Damron pleaded guilty to six counts of receiving stolen property and one count of theft by unlawful taking; Authorities have ap- prehended an 18-year-old Jeremiah man accused of biting off part of his 14-yearold sister’s nose during an assault; Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford and former Ted Nugent band singer Derek St. Holmes, touring as Whitford/St. Holmes, will appear at Appalshop Theater in Whitesburg on June 12.

June 15 — Defense attorney Robert Wright subpoenaed several local Facebook users to appear in Letcher Circuit Court on June 10 to have them explain why they “liked” or otherwise commented on an online petition calling for the trials of James Huffman and Patrick Smith, the two men charged in the January 1, 2014 stabbing death of Michael Shane Hogg, to be held in Letcher County; The Jenkins Independent Board of Education now hopes to have a new superintendent by June 23; Water customers in Fleming-Neon will see rate increases on July 1.

22 — The federal government’s decision to build a new high-security prison at Roxana in Letcher County will not change despite recent protests against the plan, the office of U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers says; the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted 5-1 this week to end its controversial plan to try to pass a local ordinance that would make it a crime for transgender citizens to use public restrooms that match their gender identities; Pointing to an operating loss of $79,000 in the city’s sanitation department, the Jenkins City Council voted to raise garbage fees by $3 per month for households and 35 percent for businesses; At 92 years old, the Rev. Willie Lamb of McRoberts is in his 60th year of visiting and praying with patients admitted to the Whitesburg hospital; Whitesburg businessman Ronald “Ron” Gene Parks, who operated Messenger Florist with his wife Sue, died June 18 at the Whitesburg hospital.

29 — The Letcher County Water and Sewer District has announced a steppedup enforcement against residents who are stealing their water service; Alpha Natural Resources will shut down its Letcher and Knott county mining operations later this week; Special Letcher Circuit Judge Kent Hendrickson of Harlan County says he is inclined to keep the murder trials of two men charged in the 2014 stabbing death of 24-yearold Michael Shane Hogg in Letcher County. Attorneys for defendants James Huff- man and Patrick Smith of Pike County cited an abundance of pre-trial publicity in their motion seeking to have their trials moved outside of the county: Mike Genton of Trimble County has been hired as the new superintendent of the Jenkins Independent School System; Whitesburg native Abigail Frazier is one of 30 contestants seeking the title of Miss Kentucky in a pageant to be held June 30 and July 1 at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Frazier, the 19-year-old daughter of Scott Frazier and D.J. Frazier, was recently crowned Miss Heart of the Parks; Funeral services were held Tuesday near Coeburn, Virginia for Dr. Ralph Stanley, the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass music star who died June 23 after battling skin cancer.

July

6 — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has appointed Whitesburg Attorney James W. “Jimmy” Craft to fill the unexpired term of Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright; Dr. William Dwayne Sizemore, a longtime Whitesburg optometrist, died July 1 at his residence in Isom; More than 3,500 people braved stormy weather to see a free Fourth of July concert by country music star Lorrie Morgan.

13 — The Rev. and Mrs. Bill Jones expressed their thanks for the community support they received after the fatal shooting of their son, Bobby Jones, and his girlfriend, Crystal Warner; The City of Whitesburg is seeking a $6 million grant from the federal Appala- chian Regional Commission to be used to rebuild the old Daniel Boone Hotel; Casey’s IGA is closing the Jenkins IGA after 10 years.

20 — Kara Kennedy, a 22-year-old Virginia woman, underwent the amputation of a lower leg and facial surgery after falling nearly 70 feet at Bad Branch Nature Preserve; The Letcher Fiscal Court took the first step toward charging dog owners $2 a year in licensing fees.

27 — Seventy-threeyear old Denita Calhoun discovered and killed a copperhead which was in a teapot attached to a tree in her front yard; Stephen Alex Moore, who escaped from the rooftop of the Letcher County Courthouse, is still at large.

August

3 — Residents of the City of Jenkins can decide Sept. 27 whether alcohol sales should be allowed in qualifying retail establishments.

10 — Twenty-eight candidates have filed to run for nonpartisan city and local offices in the Nov. 8 general election; The remains of Robert “Bobby” Jones, a former Letcher County man who went missing after visiting his parents at Crases Branch July 3, were found near Winchester.

17 — The Letcher Fiscal Court voted to rescind a $2 dog license for county residents; A 44-mile bicycle race will start and end in Whitesburg on Aug. 27; The Letcher County Central football season opens against Pike County Central Friday night at home with a new coach, Junior Matthews.

24 — The Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education voted to leave last year’s tax rates intact; Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Glenn Hughes performs tonight at the Appalshop Theater to a sold-out audience of 150, at least 120 of whom will be making their first trip to Letcher County.

31 — Isom Days kicks off with carnival rides opening tonight and a “Cruzin in Isom” car and truck event; A computer virus believed to be the work of hackers continues to plague Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals and clinics in Whitesburg and elsewhere in Kentucky and West Virginia;

Naveen Rao, a 1993 graduate of Whitesburg High School and son of Dr. Chalapathi Rao, a Letcher County pediatrician until his retirement in 2013, sold the hi-tech firm he helped start to computer chipmaker Intel Corporation for $408 million.

September

7 — The theme of Neon Area Days 2016 is “Families Connected Strong & True Generation to Generation”; Justin Lee Maynard is in critical condition in a Tennessee hospital after falling from atop Bad Branch Falls, the second such incident in as many months.

14 — Services for double murder victim Robert “Bobby” Jones will be held at Letcher, more than two months after a disgruntled tenant allegedly murdered Jones and his girlfriend; The trial of James R. Huffman IV, one of two defendants charged in the Jan. 1, 2014 stabbing death of Michael Hogg of Kingscreek, was ordered delayed after a defense attorney said his defendant was mentally incompetent; Officers with the Fleming- Neon Police Department are now equipped with body cameras; Property and other city tax rates for the City of Whitesburg will remain the same as they were last year.

21 — Ann Bradley and Whitney Creech will be the grand marshals of the Mountain Heritage Festival Parade.

28 — Residents of the four precincts in the City of Jenkins voted overwhelmingly to approve alcohol sales at retail outlets in the city limits; The Supreme Court of Kentucky has affirmed the conviction of Roger D. Epperson, who is awaiting execution in the Aug. 8, 1985 murder of Tammy Dee Acker, and the attempted murder of her father, Dr. Roscoe J. Acker, during a robbery that netted $1.9 million from a safe in the family’s home at Fleming Neon; School nurse Lisa Collins has asked the Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education to allow her to keep and use the antioverdose drug Naloxone in case of an opioid overdose at the schools.

October

5 — Michael Lowe, 50, has been identified as the victim murdered in his home at the Mountain Breeze Apartments in the Jenkins community of Burdine; It will be two months before the City of Jenkins can take action toward formally approving alcohol sales in the city after citizens voted overwhelmingly to approve liquor sales; The Letcher County Public Library District’s new bookmobile has finally hit the road.

12 — The threat that a Letcher County Central High School student had planned on carrying a gun to school was determined not credible, says Sheriff Danny Webb; The Jenkins Cavaliers defeated South Floyd for their first win of the season.

19 — Kingdom Coal, a subsidiary of Keystone- Kingdom Resources of Fort Worth, Tex., has purchased the idle Enterprise Mining Corporation LLC assets, which include a mine in Knott County and the Roxana Preparation Plant in Letcher County, and has indicated it plans to restart operations; An Oktoberfest celebration will take place in Whitesburg Oct. 22, including a performance by country musician and Sirius/XM radio host Elizabeth Cook and Triple Run at Summit City Lounge.

26 — Building a water treatment plant to serve Letcher County residents in the Upper Cumberland River area was giving a ranking of “high priority” at the Kentucky River Area Development District’s water council meeting; Weather experts say there is a greater likelihood of above normal temperatures this winter across eastern Kentucky; The Letcher Central Lady Cougars volleyball team won the 53rd District Championship, defeating Knott Central 3-0.

November

2 — Democrat Angie Hatton and Republican Frank Justice II, candidates for 94th District State Representative, discussed issues and exchanged barbs during a meeting at the Appalachian News-Express newspaper in Pikeville.

9 — With smoke from forest fires hanging over downtown Jenkins, Mayor Todd Depriest told the Jenkins City Council that members of the Jenkins Volunteer Fire Department, volunteers from the area, and volunteer fire departments from other regions are all working to keep the fires from damaging homes and endangering citizens.

16 — Firefighters are still watching a 1,200-acre Number 1 Hill fire, which crept all the way around Jenkins and is now burning between U.S. 23 and U.S. 119; President-elect Trump’s promise to roll back environmental regulations and revive the coal industry shouldn’t mean that miners in eastern Kentucky will be returning to work anytime soon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Coal Association

President Nick Carter said; Appalachian Regional Healthcare says findings by independent computer forensic experts and federal authorities show that no ARH patient or employee health or financial information was comprised in the late August cyber attack on the system.

23 — Former Army medic Paul Pigman, a Bronze Star recipient and veteran of World War II, will turn 93 on Nov. 28; The trial date of James R. Huffman IV, one of two suspects in the murder of Michael Hogg on New Year’s Day 2014, has been delayed until April.

30 — The Federal Bureau of Prisons will revise its environmental impact statement for the construction of a federal prison at Roxana because it is removing two parcels of land from the area being considered for purchase; Kentucky State Police are asking residents to be on the lookout for Charles T. Fields of Kingscreek, who has been missing for more than a week.


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