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Courthouse annex hits major snag

After months of planning to use land on the Loudon riverfront for a new courthouse annex, Loudon County Commission may be forced to look elsewhere.

Knoxville engineering firm GeoServices gave Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw a detailed report Sept. 25 recommending the property not be disturbed.

“We kind of knew what was there,” Bradshaw said. “We didn’t expect it would be anything too bad. GeoServices told us that there was a host of metals as well as petroleum there, and so we weren’t expecting any of that to be there and I don’t think the city of Loudon was either. So that’s kind of made us take a step back. Certainly still, extremely grateful to the city of Loudon. We’re talking about some other sites at this time.

“I don’t know if ultimately the riverside will be it. So I talked to Mayor (Jeff) Harris this afternoon and he’s talking about they may look at doing the actual core drilling to see what’s there,” he added. “Depending on what comes back with it, maybe it’s addressed again by commission, it may not.”

For now, Bradshaw is leaning toward looking elsewhere.

“The report was done years ago,” Van Shaver, county commissioner, said. “Apparently (former city) manager Lynn Mills had the report done, they had the survey done on all that riverfront property and it came back with serious contamination problems, but nobody apparently knew of this report until our GeoServices went and did the historical research on it and found a copy of it with (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) as I understand.”

Shaver now considers the property “completely off the table.”

“With that report hanging over that property, it’s almost dead in the water for all of its life,” he said.

GeoServices found that several industrial facilities have been on the property or nearby, including paint mills, saw mills, planing mills and other manufacturers.

“A former chair manufacturer on site utilized a gasoline (underground storage tank), oil house, transformers, coal pile and more,” according to the report. “Several solvents and paints were used on site, as well as dip tanks, petroleum-related products and coal combustion residues. The facility was demolished in 2001 after the removal of several drums and chemical containers. The property came to the attention of TDEC’s Division of Remediation in 2009.”

City and county officials targeted the land for a new courthouse annex after the historic Loudon County Courthouse burned in April.

“We’ve got a concept. I don’t know if we’re back to square one,” Bradshaw said. “I know there is some interest about expanding the current courthouse. I don’t know what the commission would feel with that. I certainly am in favor of the idea of a new site. I hope we can find one (because) 2,000 square feet to operate in was simply not enough. This gives us an opportunity to expand those services and get us more court dates, and hopefully alleviate some of the folks that are in the jail. If it doesn’t happen it’ll certainly be disappointing to me, but I’m not giving up on the idea as a whole yet.”

The plans is to gather more information for discussion at a Oct. 21 commission workshop, he said.

“Hopefully maybe we’ll have something to talk about potential new sites for it,” Bradshaw said. “If not, we better be prepared for plan B because I think either way we go, whether it’s a new site or expansion, then we have to be prepared to bring ourselves up and create some more space, some more courtrooms where our criminal court, chancery court, circuit court can operate in a more efficient and more frequent manner.”

Adam Waller, county commissioner, plans to reach out to Jack Qualls, Loudon County Economic Development Agency executive director, to attend the workshop and present other possible locations.

“I’m going to talk to Jack next week and say, ‘Jack, come in with five or six options and let us all talk about them and mull it over and hopefully vote in November for a place to go’,” Waller said.

The old Bacon Creamery property is a possibility, Bradshaw said.

“The one we’ve talked about a little bit is the old Bacon Creamery right there just adjacent to the bridge, one block off from the bridge, but that’s just talk,” he said. “We’ve not made any serious negotiations yet or anything as far as acquisitions. It’s just something we’re just talking about.”

Waller is hesitant about that land.

“One thing Commissioner (Van) Shaver said, which makes sense, is back behind the justice center,” Waller said. “... Because then all your courtrooms are right next to the jail so transporting prisoners would be minimal. That’s an option. I don’t know how viable it is if the city of Loudon would want to annex that or not. That’s one convenient place for it, but I don’t know. It’s got to be in the county seat.

“... If it saves our butt long term and delays it a couple of months, I’d rather be safe than sorry,” he added.

David Meers, county commissioner, requested during Monday’s commission meeting for GeoServices to attend the upcoming workshop. He expects the building to be inside Loudon.

“Look at the economic impact it would have if you were to move with the redevelopment of the riverfront property,” Meers said. “I think that would be very important for us to continue in a positive manner with the city.”

Henry Cullen, commission chairman, believes the county should walk away from the property based on what has been presented.

“The next big issue is going to be what do we do? Do we add onto the old courthouse? Possibility,” Cullen said. “Do we look for another spot? Is some of the areas that they’re cleaning up in Loudon good to use? I don’t know.”

National Guard sees decline in recruitment

Tennessee National Guard Staff Sgt. Donna Walker stood casually in front of an agriculture class Friday at Loudon High School, talking to students as if they were old friends.

In some ways, they are.

Walker, who has been in the National Guard for 13 years and a recruiter the last two, frequents the county’s high schools to build relationships.

“I try to change it up like every two or three months,” she said. “I start seeing the same kids over and over, and they’re like, ‘We just heard this,’ so I try to make it different or play a game and show them different aspects of it and not just, ‘Here’s what we offer and join the Guard. Bye.’ That gets really old, and they get over it real quick. Even if they want to, they’re like, ‘We’ve already heard this’.”

Despite the effort, Walker has noticed a decline in student interest. She attributes the drop to cultural changes.

“Honestly, I think it’s slowing down,” she said. “Obviously, I feel pretty new to it in the last two and a half years, so the demographics haven’t changed much for me since I started, but I think that because there’s not the need to serve like there was after Sept. 11, kids now are raised a little differently where patriotism is not gone, but it’s not a front runner, instilled in children, stuff like that.

“Before 9/11 happened, then we had a huge splurge to enlist,” she added. “Everybody was trying to get in and fight for their country. Obviously, that was so long ago now. Especially with these kids, they were either very young or not even born yet, some of them, so they don’t have that. When they do serve now, it is usually, in my experience, have enlisted in the last two and a half years is for the benefits, for the college money. We also do a sign-on bonus. It just depends on what, but they stay for patriotism once they’re in, but a lot of them stay for the benefits up front.”

Walker has recruited four students from Loudon High School and one from Lenoir City High School.

The hope is to draw students with benefits, but an understandable prerequisite lies in a deep-rooted patriotism.

“Across the board, I think all military branches recruit the same way in a sense,” Walker said. “First and foremost, we do try to recruit to that patriotism and the need to serve. We do, what are our benefits, how can this benefit you? They don’t really change the way we recruit necessarily, but what they do is they offer additional incentives. For instance, a $20,000 sign-on bonus is not always an option. It is currently because our numbers are low. They do things like that to try to entice people more. Unfortunately, the monetary stuff is what gets these people. They may have some small will to serve, but this kind of — oh, there’s $20,000, so now they’re going to do it. I think those incentives kind of help push them over the edge to I do want to serve, but now I can get $20,000 and do it at the perfect time.

“I don’t think you can take anybody off the street and recruit them that has no desire at all, regardless of what I tell you,” she added. “If I tell you I’ll give you a million dollars to be in the military, even part time, if you have no desire to serve, you’re not going to do it, regardless of what I offer you. I do think there is some little bit of service there. They just need more to actually follow through with it.”

Pfc. Joshua Campbell, a 2018 LHS graduate, was influenced by a mixture of patriotism and a strong work ethic.

“I knew from a young age I wanted to go military pretty strong,” Campbell said. “It’s in my family. Growing up in that kind of environment, that’s pretty much why I wanted to enlist. I didn’t really know what branch or anything I wanted to do specifically. My friend, Ryan, he was in the National Guard before I was, and he told me about all of the scholarships he got over at Tennessee (Technological University). That really helps him out, so I thought I would follow him down the same path, so I talked to Sgt. Walker about it.”

High school students are often the target audience as big decisions loom, especially for seniors. Campbell hopes to attend Maryville College after he returns from deployment in February 2021.

Walker’s spiel of benefits was also a determining factor for Campbell to join.

“For my specific (military occupational specialty), I chose military police, and I got a $20,000 sign-on bonus, so that’s pretty nice,” Campbell said. “They told me about the Tennessee (Support, Training and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, which pretty much pays for my bachelor’s degree in college, which is really nice.

“I’m eligible for TRICARE,” he added. “It’s not free, like active duty Army, but if you go in the National Guard, it’s like $40 a month and $211 for dependents.”

A common issue is some soldiers may not use the college benefits, leaving them partially jobless and frustrated.

“What happens sometimes is soldiers come back and they don’t start college,” she said. “They just sit around, and then they’re no better off than they were because you have to use the benefits. You have to use this job skill that you learned and then go apply for a good job. You have to go to college. You have to go to trade school. You have to follow through with that next step. If that happens, great.”

Though recruitment fixates on high-schoolers, Walker has noticed an increase in older adults willing to start a military career due to job training, scholarships and benefits.

“A lot of mine have actually been older adults who are in the 25-30 range who are like, ‘Oh yeah, you were right 10 years ago when I was in high school, but I wasn’t ready to do it then’,” she said.

Mentors needed for students

Loudon County still needs 38 volunteer tnAchieves mentors to help students move toward a post-secondary education.

The program is for all students who apply for Tennessee Promise, which offers the first two years of college free at a state community college.

Mentors spend one hour per month helping students as they transition from high school to college.

Graham Thomas, tnAchieves deputy director of partnerships, said mentors remind students of important deadlines, serve as a trusted resource and encourage them to “reach their full potential,” which he finds the most important.

“Many students that use TN Promise will be the first in their family to attend college,” Graham said in an email correspondence. “The financial aspect of TN Promise is important but we also know many barriers exist for students. Mentors work to alleviate those barriers and assist students on their post-secondary journey.”

There are 37 mentors registered in the county, with 18 for Loudon County Schools — 11 at Loudon High School and seven at Greenback School — and 19 for Lenoir City Schools.

Students are urged to apply for Tennessee Promise even if taking a two-year route isn’t their first choice.

“For the folks that are going to naturally go toward a two-year institution, possibly Roane State ... that’s their primary plan for a lot of them, that’s fine,” Sean Royston, Advise TN counselor for LCHS, said. “For the folks that are planning on doing a four-year route, ... this is their backup plan. For the folks that are going to the military, this might be their backup plan. Even folks who know they are going to do some kind of internship or apprenticeship in a trade, I often recommend they do this as a backup plan as well.”

And that’s where mentors help.

“tnAchieves does a great job making sure mentors are prepared and they do a great job being in touch,” Heather Waldron, LHS junior and senior counselor, said. “Mentors get weekly emails on what the next steps are. So they always have something laid out so if I don’t have a reason I can check my Monday email and know, ‘OK, this is what my kids’ deadline is, this is what I need to be in touch with them about’.”

Royston and Waldron have helped students prepare for Tennessee Promise, with the application deadline approached Nov. 1. LCHS has about 195 signed up, while LHS has about 140. Royston and Waldron anticipate more will sign up after fall break.

Thomas said 503 local seniors applied for Tennessee Promise last year.

Mentors will meet with students at LCHS on March 4. Greenback School students and private/home-schooled students also meet with mentors the same day, with private and home-school students gathering at LCHS. LHS students will meet March 26. Times vary with each meeting.

“They introduce the mentors to students ahead of time in part because they want to make sure that they have an opportunity for the parents to know that that’s a legitimate person, and that’s also why parents are invited to that meeting on the fourth,” Royston said. “Make sure that, one, they understand what’s going on with Tennessee Promise and, two, they get to meet that mentor if they would like.”

Royston is entering his fourth year as a mentor. Waldron was involved four years, but is taking a break.

“It’s really such a small commitment that makes such a big impact because you’re really committing to a one-hour meeting in March, a one-hour training and texting your kids or emailing or reminding or whatever, however you choose to communicate with them,” Waldron said.

Mentors must be at least 21 years old, are subject to a background check and must complete one hour of training. For more information or to apply, visit www.tnachieves.org or contact Thomas at 615-604-1306 or graham@tnachieves.org.

Woman convicted of attempted murder

Oregon resident Kimberly Hopkins, 56, was convicted Thursday of attempted first-degree murder after plotting to kill her mother in June 2018.

Hopkins received a 15-year prison sentence, with credit for the 15 months she has already been in jail.

“The father is upset with the plea,” Russell Johnson, 9th Judicial District attorney general, said in an email correspondence. “The defendant wanted probation and time served. The mother was supportive of that request. We insisted on a guilty plea as charged but gave her the bottom of the range in terms of years. Neither parent was at sentencing.”

Estranged from her adoptive parents who are both in their 80s, Hopkins arrived unannounced on Father’s Day weekend to visit their residence in Tellico Village.

While in town, Hopkins used her mother’s credit card and her parents’ computer to order helium and had it delivered to their residence, according to a release from Johnson’s office. She also bought clothing and items that were used as part of her plan.

“The situation then quickly unraveled after church on Father’s Day when Hopkins took her mother to a back bedroom of the home where she wrapped her mother’s hands with zip-ties and started to place a plastic bag over her head under the pretext of giving her mother a beauty treatment,” the release said. “The mother started to object and began calling for her husband who was in a front room of the house.”

The husband confronted Hopkins, who then quickly left the residence.

The parents found containers of helium, bags and a turkey the daughter baked that was potentially laced with medication Hopkins either found at the residence or brought with her. After the parents spoke with Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, Hopkins was arrested when she returned to the residence.

“Investigators found some evidence that Hopkins may have determined to make the crime look like an assisted suicide,” the release said. “Hopkins also asked her father pointed questions about their investments and bank account location upon her arrival at their home.”

Hopkins was indicted by a Loudon County grand jury in December.

Johnson said the case was difficult since it involved an adult daughter with elderly parents who had differing opinions on how Hopkins should be prosecuted.

“We could not please both of the (parents),” Johnson said. “There was a marked difference of opinion between a desire that she never leave prison versus one of complete forgiveness and mercy. We could appreciate both positions and our collective heart goes out to (the parents). Thus, we tried to strike a balance by convicting her with an admission of guilt to the crime that we believe she intended to commit, no matter how inept her planning or execution.”

Assistant district attorneys Bob Edwards and Jed Bassett assisted Johnson with the prosecution. LCSO investigators Patrick Upton and Chris Bowen worked the case.

Hopkins was represented by attorney Andrew Thompson.

Oliver case gets trial date

Greenback resident Tracy Lee Oliver had his first status hearing Friday.

Oliver in November was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, driving under the influence, reckless endangerment, possession of a firearm during a dangerous felony, possession of a handgun while under the influence, manufacture, sell, delivery or resale of a Schedule VI substance, simple possession/casual exchange, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving on a revoked/suspended license.

A pre-trial motion filing date has been set for April 17 with a hearing on those motions May 4. Johnson said the trial date is May 19. He declined further comment.

Oliver in November was involved in a wreck on U.S. Highway 321 in Lenoir City that left a 21-year-old woman dead.

A report filed at the time by Lenoir City Police Inv. Brad Brown indicates Oliver’s 2008 Ford Excursion struck a 2008 Mazda MZ6, which was stationary at a red light on Highway 321 in front of Taco Bell. A passenger in the back seat, a 21-year-old female, was trapped and appeared in critical condition.

“EMS arrived on scene and transported all three patients to (the University of Tennessee) Medical Center but were concerned with the rear passenger’s injuries suspecting them to be potentially fatal,” Brown wrote in a report. “She died hours later at UT Medical Center.”

One officer saw Oliver standing by the driver’s door of the Excursion and asked him if he had consumed alcohol. Oliver said he had, which was further verified after he performed poorly on standardized field sobriety testing.

Lenoir City Police Officer Jeremy Dishner noted he could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage on Oliver’s breath as he read the Tennessee Implied Consent Form.

“The suspect stated he would decline to give consent so that it would give him more time, indicating to Lt. Dishner that this would reduce the intoxication levels in his blood prior to the draw,” Brown wrote his report.