Friday October 25, 2013

On Thursday night there was a big break in a Knott County murder investigation.

Kentucky State Police arrested 37-year-old Gary Ward, of Johnson County, for the murder of Christina Barnett.

Earlier this month, a Knott County Grand Jury heard evidence from state police and issued a warrant for Ward.

Ward is charged with murder, evidence tampering and abuse of a corpse.

Today marks one month since Barnett's body was found under a pile of trash in a wooded area just off Highway 80 in Knott County by her sister and some friends.

Barnett's mother, Donna Hale, said she believes Ward is the man her daughter met online.

As of Thursday night Ward was being held in the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard.

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Four people who worked for the Floyd County city of Martin - including the former mayor and her daughter - were indicted Thursday on fraud charges.

Former mayor Thomasine Robinson and three others misused federal money and took part in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration, according to prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's office.

The nine-count indictment targets Robinson, her daughter and former Martin Community Center director Rita Whicker, former city employee Ginger Halbert and city bookkeeper Ethel Clouse.

The four women are charged with conspiring and social security fraud, misappropriating money from a federal program and aggravated identity theft.

If convicted, they could spend at least two years in prison on each count.

Robinson was voted out of office by three votes in November 2012.

The four women will be arraigned Nov. 5 in federal court in Pikeville.

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The mystery of what happened to a well-known Floyd County lawyer who disappeared four months ago has been solved.

Friends were concerned Clyde Johnson had died when he went missing June 24, but police confirmed finding him earlier this week at a campground in Port O'Connor, Texas, which is on the Gulf of Mexico north of Corpus Christi.  

This is according to Attorney Ned Pillersdorf, a friend of Johnson's.

Pillersdorf said he was told that when a Texas police officer approached Johnson at the campground this week, Johnson told the officer he was fine and to leave him alone.

Johnson, 47, was a fixture in Floyd County, representing more than 100 clients, serving as president of the county bar association and helping coach high school football.

In June, Johnson told his secretary that he was going to take his dog, Pete, and go fishing, and would not be back until June 24.   He never returned and state police opened a missing person investigation.

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United Steel Workers and officials with the Harlan Health and Rehab Center have a reached a tentative agreement that could avoid a strike.

The United Steel Workers sent a ten day strike notice to the nursing home last week.

The notice says if an agreement is not reached by midnight on October 31st, employees have the option go on strike.

The local Union Steel Workers President say they reached the tentative agreement Wednesday night with a federal mediator.

The employees will vote on Monday whether to accept it.

Thursday October 24, 2013

One of three Letcher County residents charged with conspiring to steal more than $1 million worth of trucks and heavy equipment has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month in federal court in Pikeville.

61 year old Roger Tolliver of Deane, is scheduled to appear at a sentencing hearing on November 5, during which Tolliver will admit to his role in an interstate theft ring which brought stolen pickup trucks, dump trucks, trailers, and other equipment to Letcher County.

Tolliver was originally charged in March 2012 after the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department found some of the stolen equipment on Tolliver’s property at Deane and at a natural gas well site nearby on Rockhouse Mountain.

Also charged in the case are Henry Anthony Hall, 50, of Jenkins, and Sharlene Pierce, 41, of Neon. Neither Hall nor Pierce have entered pleas in the case.

The government will recommend that Tolliver be sentenced to not more than 15 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $135,598.

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The Letcher County Fiscal Court has asked County Attorney Jaime Hatton to explore the possibility of getting some type of an exemption from the new City of Whitesburg payroll tax for magistrates who do not spend most of their time in the city.

District Four Magistrate Keith Adams brought up the issue in the closing minutes of the fiscal court’s October meeting on Monday night.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said that while he understands that employees at the courthouse and other county employees who work in the city limits are subject to the tax, he questions whether the magistrates should have to pay the entire tax when most of them work out of their homes or offices in their districts and are only in the city for meetings.

For a full rundown of the October Fiscal Court meeting see this week's Mountain Eagle.

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A Floyd County man is dead and police are calling it murder.

Police are keeping quiet about the details but did tell us 52-year-old Timothy Austin was found dead in his home on Hibiscus Court Tuesday afternoon.

Neighbors say Austin was new to the neighborhood living in an apartment above a store called the Bargain Basement.

The Floyd County Coroner says Austin was pronounced dead around 12:15pm Tuesday afternoon.

Officials are not releasing his cause of death.

The coroner says Austin's body was taken to Frankfort for an autopsy.

Anyone with information should contact Kentucky State Police.

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The search continues for an escaped inmate in Breathitt County.

Police say 31-year old Brandon Nipper managed to escape from the Breathitt County Jailer one week ago.

Nipper had just been picked up on a receiving stolen property charge when officials say he made a run for it.

If you know where he is, you should call the Jackson Police Department at 606-666-2424.

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Some Sheriffs from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia are planning to speak at a "Stand in the Gap" event this Saturday.

Eleven Sheriffs from the three border states are part of a panel to discuss the drug problem, what new drugs are surfacing, and what can be done to help stop the drug problem.

The event is called, "Illicit Drug Activity, Alcohol Related Problems, and Associated Family Violence."

The Sheriffs attending will have an opportunity to address the issues in their county.

The meeting is open to the public.

It starts at 10:00am on Saturday in Stand in the Gap headquarters in the old church building in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.

Wednesday October 23, 2013

A woman was hospitalized after a hit-and-run Tuesday in Martin County.

Claudia Johnson was walking on Spence Branch Road in the Milo community around 5:00pm when a car hit her and drove away according to Sheriff Garmon Preece.

Johnson was transported to Three Rivers Medical Center in nearby Lawrence County.

Preece said she had injuries to the back of her head after she was hit and drug several feet.  

According to the sheriff the vehicle that hit Johnson could be a white Ford station wagon.

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Kentucky's auditor says a former school superintendent assigned his wife to a job with an inflated salary, costing the Martin County School System an extra $200,000 over four years.

The report released Tuesday by Auditor Adam Edelen also says Mark Blackburn, the ex-superintendent, also  awarded a privately funded scholarship to two of his children.

Current Martin County schools Superintendent Steven Meadows says the district will create or strengthen policies to avoid a repeat of such incidents.

Blackburn now works in the school system as an elementary school teacher.

Blackburn says he's disappointed at how the auditor has portrayed the findings and says his children earned the scholarship money on their own.

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Officials dedicated the new judicial center in Pike County Tuesday afternoon after millions of dollars spent and years of work.

Many in the community debated the removal of some historical buildings that once sat in its place but officials say it was worth it.  

Officials say they will be placing pictures and artifacts of the buildings they had to tear down in the lobby of the judicial center.

The $33 million/92,000 square foot building includes technology officials say will improve productivity and help the city and county continue to move forward.

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School districts across Kentucky have maxed-out local property taxes in an effort to make up for cuts in state and federal funding in recent years.

The result is an inequality among the state's 173 districts that has turned school boards into political exiles.

Eighty-one districts, including Letcher County, have adopted rates increasing revenue by 4 percent, the largest amount allowed without being subject to a voter recall.

Seventy-six districts approved similar measures last year, while 26 school boards have yet to set a rate.

Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes told The Courier-Journal the districts have no other choice but to turn to taxpayers.

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Kentucky now has a new emergency operations center that has been built to stand up to any weather catastrophes that hit the state, including winds of up to 250 mph.

Gov. Steve Beshear said the $11.8 million facility will be a lifeline to all of Kentucky's 120 counties in times of trouble.

Kentucky has dealt with a series of natural disasters in recent years, including tornadoes, floods and ice storms that have resulted in federal emergency declarations.

Nearly $10 million of the funding for the center came from FEMA.

The remainder was covered by the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs and the Office of Homeland Security.

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Hollywood has come to the mountains as filming is underway in Big Stone Gap, VA for a movie starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson and Whoopi Goldberg.

Recently, film crews descended on the town to make "Big Stone Gap", a movie based on a series of novels by Adriana Trigiana.

Trigiana is a Big Stone Gap native.

The film will feature locals as extras.

The city manager said they plan to sell merchandise that will promote both the town and the movie.

Those will be available in shops around town.

City officials hope the movie will bring an increase to the economy of Big Stone Gap.

Tuesday October 22, 2013

 

A tanker truck wreck Monday afternoon in Perry County delayed traffic on Kentucky-15 for several hours.

Around 1:30 Monday, the Hazard Police department received word that a tanker truck had overturned and spilled around 850 gallons of off-road diesel fuel.

The driver of the truck was not injured, and police do not think he was impaired at the time of the wreck.

Officials with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection were on the scene Monday, assessing the environmental impact.

The Perry County Sheriff's Office, the state fire marshal, and other agencies were called to the scene as well.

The truck is registered to Carson Montgomery Trucking out of Salyersville.

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An investigation is underway following an overnight fire at a Martin County business.

Dispatchers say it happened at the Pigeon Roost Dairy Bar on Route 1714 around 11:00 Sunday night.

Firefighters from the Warfield, Inez and Kermit volunteer fire departments responded.

No one was injured. No word on what started the fire.

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Family members have identified the victims in a house fire in the Lick Creek community of Pike County.

Fire broke out inside the home on the Left Fork of Elswick Fork Rd. some time before 1:30 Sunday morning.

State police say when first responders entered the residence they found two bodies.

Family members believe they are their loved ones, 33 year old Jesse Slone, and his wife 27 year old Sara Horn Slone.

Arson investigators have not found anything suspicious.

The fire remains under investigation by Kentucky State Police Post 9.

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A man is under arrest following a fight that ended in a shooting.

The Buchanan County Virginia Sheriff's Office says 63-year-old Ben Ratliff is charged with two counts of malicious wounding.

Deputies say they found Amanda and John Ratliff with non-life threatening gunshot wounds on Thursday at a home on Dusty Road in Grundy.

Ben Ratliff is being held at Southwest Regional Jail in Haysi.

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Investigators have cracked a case of jewelry theft where the victims were members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Someone reportedly stole some of the band ZZ Top’s jewelry and other items from their dressing room when the rockers made a visit to the Eastern Kentucky Expo Center in May 2007.

Earlier this week, Pikeville police say they received a tip as to where to find the jewelry, including a VH1 Rock Honors Ring.

Charges are pending in the case.

Police aren’t releasing yet exactly where they found the stolen items or any names.

They say they’ve recovered the bulk of the stolen property, but some items remain missing.

Police say they’ve been attempting to reach someone with the band to inform them the items were recovered.

 

Monday October 21, 2013

Two teenage girls from Lawrence County, missing since late last week, are safe.

Police say they found Brittany Cheyenne Bishop and Karina Catalan, both 16 years old, Saturday night at a gas station in Lexington.

The teens were discovered about 8:30pm at a BP on Richmond Road.

The pair were last seen going to a bus stop on south Highway 3 outside of Louisa early Friday morning.

Bishop was released into the custody of her grandmother.

Police arrested 19 year old Jesus Cristino and charged him with custodial interference.

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Two people are dead after an early morning fire in Pike County.

Fire officials say it happened around 1:30am Sunday morning on the Left Fork of Elswick Fork Road.

Ferrells Creek and Elkhorn City Fire Departments responded and firefighters say a man and woman appeared to have died from smoke inhalation.

The fire remains under investigation by Kentucky State Police.  

The victims names have not been released.

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A Lee County man has been found shot to death in his own home, now his wife is being charged with the murder.

It happened Friday night in Beattyville at their home on Primrose Lane.

Police say Madeline Lykins first told them she came home Friday night to find her husband Rex had been murdered.

But after questioning Madeline on Saturday, police say they had enough information to charge the 54-year-old with the murder of her husband and with tampering with evidence at the crime scene.

Police have not yet determined a motive for the murder.

The victim's brother-in-law says Rex and his wife had recently moved to Kentucky to be closer to family after retirement.

The wife has been booked at the Lee County Detention Center.

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A woman is still in the hospital after a car hit her on Friday Evening in Big Stone Gap Virginia.

Police say 42 year old Christy Vikara was walking along the on-ramp that links up with US Route 23 near Union High School, when she was hit by a car driven by 22 year old Jessica Eldridge.

Vikara was flown to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport Tennessee.

She is listed in critical condition.

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The University of Pikeville officially has a new president.

The inauguration for Dr. James Hurley was held Friday.

Hurley is the 20th UPIKE president and the first alumnus of the university to serve in the position.

He says his plans include continuing to grow the university and serve the people of Appalachia by educating them here at home.

Hurley follows in the footsteps of what he calls many great leaders and served most recently as UPIKE Vice President under former Governor Paul Patton.