At the end of every year, The Herald-News recounts the top stories of the year, both the good and the bad. In this edition, we bring our readers the Top 14 stories of 2014. These stories were selected in a variety of ways. We took into account community impact and story reach and spread as well as more analytical approaches such as website page views and Facebook post reach.
It has been our privilege and pleasure to serve Rhea County for the past 116 years by being the only source for comprehensive local news that matters to the citizens of Rhea County.
We look forward to continuing to serve you in 2015.
Eagles reach state semi-finals
The top story of 2014 is not actually one story, but rather a collection of 14 stories stretching over several months that captured the Rhea County High School Eagle football team’s stellar season and impressive run in the state playoffs.
The Eagles posted an impressive 10-0 season record and went on to improve that record to 13-1 in the postseason.
After defeating teams like Cookeville, Soddy-Daisy and East Hamilton in the regular season, the Eagles entered postseason play with a first round game against Tullahoma where the Eagles won 52-14.
The second round game against Ooltewah saw the Eagles trounce the Owls 47-14 and move on to the state quarterfinals where they defeated Oak Ridge 35-21.
But the Eagles historic season came to an end in the state semifinals when the Eagles were defeated in Evensville by Knox West.
After being down 28-0 at halftime, the Eagles mounted an impressive comeback to tie the game 28-28 late in the second half. However, Knox West would ultimately come out on top with a score of 35-28.
The 2014 season marked the first time in nearly 25 years that the Eagles had reached the state semifinals.
Who is the mysterious woman in black?
Over the summer this year, areas throughout East Tennessee and in other states as well were intrigued with a mysterious “Woman in Black” that was constantly seen walking the roads. While this story may not be considered important local news, hundreds of thousands of people from as far away as Ohio visited The Herald-News’ website as more and more sightings of the woman spread throughout the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. According to online data, this story received nearly 300,000 unique page views on www.rheaheraldnews.com, compared with the second-highest story, which received only 10,000 unique page views.
People from all over the area this summer began reporting the appearance of a woman dressed in black shrouds wandering the highways and roads of East Tennessee.
She was spotted as far south as Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., and as far north as Kingsport, Tenn., near the Virginia border. Rhea County sheriff’s deputies responded to calls regarding a suspicious woman, clad in a long black robe, walking along Highway 30.
The woman told deputies she was originally from an “Islamic nation” and that she formerly worked at the Pentagon, a claim that law enforcement officials doubt.
Reports began flooding into a Rhea County forum on Facebook, with several posters claiming they had seen the mysterious woman in Rhea County, including a sighting at the Dayton Wal-Mart.
The next day the woman was spotted walking on Highway 27 near Graysville.
But reports of sightings of the woman are not specific to Rhea County. Sightings have been reported in Cleveland, Bakewell, Kingsport and even as far west as Lebanon.
On June 4 sheriff’s deputies in Sullivan County stopped the woman after receiving calls of a suspicious person outside the Kingsport city limits.
According to reports, the woman told deputies that her name was Elizabeth Poles of Motts, Ala., and that she was on a “Bible mission” and needed a ride to Winchester, Va. She told Sullivan County deputies much the same thing she told deputies in Rhea, reports state — that she was originally from an “Islamic nation,” used to work at the Pentagon and that she was on a “Bible mission.”
Those same reports state that Sullivan County deputies drove the woman to the Virginia border and dropped her off so she could continue on to Winchester, Va.
After being dropped off in Virginia, the woman appeared three days later in Dayton — 184 miles southwest of Sullivan County.
The sporadic nature of the sightings as well as the large distances between sightings have caused much speculation on social media as to the identity and mysterious nature of the woman. Some have even questioned whether there are in fact several similar women walking the roads of East Tennessee.
Later in the summer, visits to The Herald-News’ story regarding the woman in black spiked again, as she was reportedly spotted in Ohio, but since late summer, reports of seeing the woman in black have stopped.
Police: Dayton man had one of the largest child porn collections in the state
A Dayton man was arrested in October after law enforcement officials found what they called one of the largest collections of child pornography ever seized in the state on the man’s various electronic devices.
Brian Lee Krzeczowski, 41, of Dayton, was arrested in October by officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rhea County Sheriff’s Department [RCSD] and Dayton Police Department and charged with possession, production, distribution and receiving child pornography.
RCSD Investigator Rocky Potter said when federal law enforcement officials learned of the nearly 4,000 images of child pornography in Krzeczowski’s possession, they called it one of the largest child porn collections in the state.
Potter said the arrest marks the culmination of nearly three years of investigative work.
“He’s been on our radar for about three years now after he had been posting on questionable websites,” Potter said.
“He would even pose as a young female online in an attempt to get other young females to trade photos with him,” Potter said, adding that Krzeczowski also solicited nude photos from children outside of Tennessee, which was why the FBI became involved.
After receiving a search warrant, Potter and Dayton Police Department Investigator Steve Rievley conducted the search and confiscated two desktop computers, a laptop and other electronic devices. It was during Potter and Rievley’s search of Krzeczowski’s home that they found one of the largest child porn collections in the state.
“Hidden under a table, we did find hundreds and hundreds of CDs with videos and images on them,” Potter said. “About half of those videos and images contained [pornographic] images of children.”
Rievley said he and Potter seized thousands of images that were contained on several electronic devices.
Potter said that investigators estimate the children in the images to be between the ages of 5 to their mid-teens.
After the items were seized from Krzeczowski’s home, Potter contacted the FBI after learning some of the victims lived outside of Tennessee.
The case was taken before a federal grand jury in Chattanooga, which returned indictments on Krzeczowski for production of child pornography, distribution of child pornography, receiving child pornography and possession of child pornography.
Professors sue Bryan College
“Professors sue Bryan College” was the third most-read article on The Herald-News website in 2014. The story also received some regional attention and appeared in various other media outlets in the East Tennessee area.
Two tenured Bryan College professors that were notified their employment will be terminated in May 2014 after they failed to acknowledge the college’s recent “clarification” on the origins of man in their contract renewal sued the college in Rhea County Chancery Court.
The lawsuit states that when the Bryan College Board of Trustees approved a “clarification” to the school’s statement of faith saying that man descended from Adam and Eve and did not evolve from other species, it was effectively altering the Bryan College statement of faith. The school’s charter expressly forbids an alteration to the college’s statement of faith.
Professor of natural science Stephen Barnett and professor of education and chair of the education department Steven DeGeorge sued the school in the hopes of getting their jobs back in addition to asking the court to declare the “clarification” on the origins of man void.
The college came under much public and media scrutiny in the past several months after the Bryan College Board of Trustees passed a clarification to part of the school’s statement of belief that states “we believe that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death.”
In February, the board of trustees opted to clarify that statement by approving the following clarification: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”
When annual contracts were distributed to professors in late February, a letter included with the contracts noted that when signing the statement of belief, professors are affirming that they are in agreement with the recent clarification.
The lawsuit states that both Barnett and DeGeorge signed the statement of belief but added footnotes that signified they agreed with the original statement of belief but not the recent clarification.
Nearly two months after returning their signed contracts, the two professors received a letter from Bryan College President Stephen Livesay on April 18 rejecting both of their contracts and effectively terminating their employment in May.
Barnett and DeGeorge both sued for the reinstatement of their jobs and that the clarification “be declared void and of no force” since, according to the lawsuit, it is in violation of the school’s original charter, adopted in 1930.
The professors reached an undisclosed settlement with the school later in 2014.
BASSFest comes to Dayton
When BASSfest came to Dayton in summer 2014, it made not only local news, but national news as well. The event on Chickamauga Lake was televised throughout the nation
BASS, the world’s largest fishing organization, hosted BASSfest at Chickamauga Lake, June 11 - 15, in Dayton.
Joining the Elite Series pros in the competition were the 33 top-ranked anglers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by All State.
The field of competitors included fishing superstar Kevin VanDam, 2014 Bassmaster Classic Champion Randy Howell and Toyota Angler of the Year frontrunner Mark Davis.
In addition to Elite Series competition, the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional took place on nearby Watts Bar Lake in Spring City.
Majority of Rhea County Commission seats change
A majority of seats on the Rhea County Commission changed hands in August after the voters of Rhea County cast their ballots during the county general election.
In other contested county races, Shannon Garrison defeated Carol Ann Barron and Larry Roddy for general sessions court judge.
Garrison replaced retiring Judge Jimmy McKenzie.
In the race for Rhea County Executive, incumbent George Thacker defeated challenger June Griffin.
Democrat and incumbent Rhea County Circuit Court Clerk Jamie Holloway defeated GOP challenger Pam Peavyhouse in the race for court clerk.
Incumbent State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, defeated challenger and former State Rep. Jim Cobb in the GOP primary for the State House District 31 seat.
According to the state election office, Travis received 6.723 votes throughout the 31st District, which includes Rhea, Sequatchie and Bledsoe counties, as well as part of Roane County.
Man fatally shot by deputy at Rhea Medical Center
A 23-year-old Rhea County man was fatally shot in September at Rhea Medical Center by a Rhea County Sheriff’s Department [RCSD] deputy after taking another officer’s weapon, according to law enforcement officials.
Steven Howell died shortly after the incident and was pronounced dead by Rhea Medical Center staff.
RCSD Investigator Rocky Potter said deputies arrested Howell after responding to a domestic assault call in north Rhea County. Howell was reportedly injured in the incident and taken to the hospital for examination.
“[At the hospital, Howell] became belligerent and a scuffle ensued,” Potter said.
Howell then was able to take a deputy’s weapon, Potter said, and a second deputy was forced to shoot Howell in self-defense, fatally wounding him.
Potter said both deputies suffered no injuries in the incident, as Howell was unable to shoot the weapon before being incapacitated.
“This is a traumatic event for both deputies,” Potter said.
Graysville Police Chief arrested
Graysville Police Department Chief Erik Redden was arrested in June after turning himself in to authorities on charges of theft over $1,000, theft under $500 and official misconduct.
The Rhea County Grand Jury returned indictments against Redden, 40, of Old Graysville Road, after a months-long investigation into the Graysville Police Department by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
At the request of 12th District Attorney General Mike Taylor, TBI special agents began investigating Redden in August 2013, according to TBI officials.
During the course of the investigation, agents allegedly found information that Redden, while working as Chief of the Graysville Police Department, sold, took for himself or returned to the original owner three of the department’s seized vehicles.
According to a statement from TBI, the investigation also revealed $4,128 in missing seized money or money paid to the department for towing and storage, for which the chief was responsible.
Agents also determined that video captured Redden taking tools from a truck being held as evidence at the department.
The Rhea County Grand Jury returned indictments for Redden, charging him with seven counts of official misconduct, two counts of theft over $1,000 and one count of theft under $500.
Redden turned himself into the Rhea County Jail and is still awaiting trial.
RCHS graduates first class in new high school
Rhea County High School spent the 2013-14 school year in its newly constructed facility in Evensville.
Years of planning and construction ultimately came to a head in May 2014 when the first graduating class from the new facility walked across the stage at Bill Horton Field and accepted their diplomas.
County mourns loss of former and current elected officials in 2014
Former Dayton City Council Vice Mayor, and Dayton Postmaster, John Heath passed away at his residence in April.
Heath was a long-time resident of Dayton after being born in Newport, Vt., in 1935. He was a Korean War veteran in the U.S. Army and had a 31-year career with the U.S. Postal Service [USPS]. He retired from the USPS in 1990 as postmaster.
Heath was on the Dayton Planning Commission for over 20 years and served on the Dayton City Council for eight years.
Also in April, a prominent former Dayton City Council member passed away with the loss of Wendell Brown, who served as both mayor and vice mayor on the municipal board.
Brown’s passing came six days after the passing of Heath.
Brown served on the council for more than 25 years while serving 12 years as vice mayor and four years as mayor. He was past president of the Dayton Rotary Club.
Former state representative and former district attorney J. William “Bill” Pope, of Dayton, passed away in June 2014.
Pope was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1966 and after an unsuccessful U.S. House bid, he was appointed attorney general for Rhea County in 1970 and served in that post until his retirement from the position in 1992.
In November, District 6 Rhea County Commissioner Eddie Francisco died at his home after battling cancer. He was 74.
Francisco, a U.S. Army veteran during the Vietnam War, was elected to the Rhea County Commission in August and served nearly two months before his passing.
Francisco’s seat on the Rhea County Commission is currently vacant as county commissioners are still considering the appointment of either former commissioner Doyle Montgomery or Francisco’s wife, Sandy Francisco, to fill the vacancy.
Scopes Festival partners with Cumberland County Playhouse to produce play
The Scopes Trial Festival partnered with the Cumberland County Playhouse to present the play “Front Page News” at this year’s Scopes Festival in July.
It’s the first year that the Scopes Trial festival has partnered with the Cumberland County Playhouse, and Scopes Trial Festival Chair Tom Davis said the partnership brought higher production values and increased technical support than in previous years.
In addition to increased market saturation, Davis said one of the biggest artistic additions the partnership was music.
Grammy-nominated Nashville songwriter/actor Bobby Taylor teamed with playhouse producing director Jim Crabtree to adapt the play by Deborah DeGeorge Harbin of Elizabethton, Tenn.
The play was such a success that it consistently sold out, and performances were in such high demand that additional performances were scheduled even after the conclusion of the festival.
Dayton City School sees expansion
The expansion of Dayton City School is on schedule and should be ready for use soon after the new year, DCS officials said at a school board meeting in December.
The 15,800-square-foot expansion will bring 10 new classrooms, plus a computer lab and storage space to the school and is estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.
One of the built-in benefits of the new addition to Dayton City School is the addition of a concrete-enclosed area that can serve as a storm shelter.
School officials and architect Brian Templeton, from Upland Design Group, said that a concrete structure, which is poured offsite, is placed in the mechanical mezzanine and serves as a walkway to allow access to HVAC units.
Templeton said that the area could be used as an emergency shelter.
New RETC executive director named
The search for a Rhea Economic and Tourism Council [RETC] Executive Director concluded in January 2014 after RETC executive committee announced that Dennis Tumlin, a former Rhea County Commissioner and current election commission chair, accepted the job.
The announcement came after a nearly five-moth search for a replacement for former RETC Executive Director John Payne, who resigned in July 2013.
Under Tumlin, RETC has facilitated the welcoming of various fishing tournaments to the county as well as increased industrial interest in Rhea County.
RCHS first school in state to take part in innovative new program
Something fishy started at Rhea County High School in January 2014.
And the company providing the support hopes to feed 20 million people by 2020.
The Rhea County School Board approved starting a new program at the high school supported by HATponics, a Chattanooga-based company that is working on a hydroponic system that not only grows plants, but also supports fish and the crops could feed other farm animals.
HATponics CEO Ryan Cox said that aquaponics is a variation of hydroponics that not only provides fish to eat, but can also provide food for cows and chickens.
“Rhea County aquaponics is a full-scale aquaponic structure constructed under my company’s tutelage to feed 8 cows and up to 250 chickens,” Cox said.
HATponics have started several programs in Georgia schools, but the program at Rhea County High School was he first in Tennessee.