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Mother Nature tops stories of the year

By The Staff

1.) Ice Storm 2009 Mother Nature's icy wrath causes power and water outages   As the new year approaches, many people across the county and state are crossing their fingers, and toes, (and possibly even extension chords) that history doesn't repeat itself and the ice storm that wreaked havoc on us in 2009 is a thing of the past. But, just in case, keep that generator handy.

The winter storm that hit Marion County on Monday, Jan. 26, and early Tuesday, Jan. 27, is a part of 2009 that many of us would like to forget.

When the storm hit, life as we knew it froze dead in its tracks. Ice blanketed the county and seemingly everything in it. Emergency personnel ran themselves ragged trying to keep up with the seemingly endless calls. Ninety-three of the state's 120 counties were affected, and Kentucky was one of three states declared a federal disaster area because of the storm.

And, as every Marion Countian can attest, it was a disaster in every sense of the word.

Thousands were without power for several days. Some were without power for weeks. Many people sought shelter with friends and family - both here and in surrounding counties - and in hotels. Others used generators to keep their homes heated, and still others sought shelter at Centre Square, Marion County High School and the former St. Francis Nursing Center in Loretto.

The ice storm knocked out the local broadcasting capabilities of WLSK (100.9 FM) and WLBN (1590 AM), so communicating to the thousands of people who needed assistance became very difficult. And the power outages not only meant no heat for many residents, but also no water.

Late Tuesday, Jan. 27, the water treatment plant in Calvary lost power. That meant the water supply for the city and Marion County was not being replenished. The water company stored as much water as it could (approximately 2.2 million gallons) while it had power, but that water only lasted about 30 hours. To restore power to the water treatment plant, Kentucky Utility crews had to get to an area known as Buzzard's Cave, which was impossible to access with trucks. Instead, restoration workers had to carry tools and equipment 800-1,000 feet into the woods.

On the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 28, as water drained out of storage tanks, the Marion County Fiscal Court issued an order prohibiting manufacturing in the county. (TG Kentucky requested and received special permission to continue working, however.) Electricity was restored at the water treatment plant on Thursday, Jan. 29. However, it took several days for the water supply to return to its normal operating levels.

While temperatures remained below freezing until that weekend, the ice stayed put. But, when temperatures rose, that created a whole new set of problems. Melting ice crashed to the ground and power lines snapped back as the weight of the ice dropped away, creating instances of more outages in places power had been restored. For weeks, every time the lights flickered, stomachs dropped. Going home to a house with electricity, heat and running water became a luxury for many Marion Countians.

When the ice finally melted, most areas of the city and county looked as if, as one reader put it, a giant had "stomped through and smashed things." The county looked like a war zone after the battle trees and power lines had with Mother Nature. But, after two weeks of chaos and uncertainty, life was getting back to normal throughout the county. School was finally back in session and almost everyone in the county had power. But, picking up the pieces of debris the storm left behind took weeks and weeks. In fact, South Carolina's Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Team visited Marion County for several days to assist with ice storm clean-up and recovery efforts. However, debris clean-up would continue for months.

And while Mother Nature has been wet, but kind as of late, the possibility of another ice storm in our midst is enough to send chills down anyone's spine. But, the lesson that she has taught us is priceless.

As one reader put it, "This experience has taught me not to take things for granted. It sounds cliché, but it's true. You don't know what you have until it's gone."

2.) Final respects Lebanon Police Officer David Ford is murdered   David Ford's dream in life was to become a police officer.

His big brother, Darrell, vividly remembers Ford running around the house in his diaper acting out scenes from "Adam 12," a popular 1960s police show.

Ford realized his dream of becoming a police officer in 2004, when he became the chief of police in Bradfordsville and moved on to become a Lebanon Police Officer in 2005. But, his potential as an officer will never truly be realized. His life was ended abruptly Feb. 10, 2009, when he was found shot to death in his home in Campbellsville.

According to Kentucky State Police, the Campbellsville 911 Center received a call from Tonya Ford of 109 Graham Road in Taylor County at 1:07 p.m., stating that she had arrived at her residence and found that her husband, 40-year-old David M. Ford, had been shot. He was found with a gunshot wound to the head.

Ford was laid to rest Friday, Feb. 13, in Campbellsville Memorial Gardens. His funeral was attended by hundreds of law enforcement officials from throughout the region and state.

No one has been arrested for Ford's murder and very little information has been released concerning the investigation. But, according to KSP Detective Israel Slinker, the investigation into Ford's murder is on-going.

Any persons with information related to this investigation are still urged to contact the Kentucky State Police Post 15, located in Columbia at 1 (800) 222-5555 or (270) 384-4796.

3.) Changing of the guard Marcum resigns, Smith is hired   When Marion County Superintendent Roger Marcum retired this past summer, he left some big shoes to fill. Under his 10 years of leadership, student achievement improved tremendously and the school district itself was ranked in the top 20 percent of all school districts in the state. Marcum's retirement marked the end of his 34-year career as a Kentucky public school educator and left a gaping hole for someone else to fill.

Only 15 applicants sent in resumes for the position, and a superintendent search committee recommended four of those candidates to the Marion County Board of Education for interviews: Lisa Carroll, Chuck Hamilton, Ed Musgrove and Donald Smith. Carroll was serving with the Kentucky Department of Education as a highly skilled educator. Hamilton spent all but one year of his educational career in Marion County, working as a middle and high school principal and as the district's finance and personnel director. Musgrove spent most of his educational career in Missouri and had more than 20 years of experience as a superintendent. Smith was a participant in the Kentucky Department of Education's minority intern superintendent program. Prior to that, Smith was the head football coach at Kentucky State University for three seasons, but he was fired for alleged "misuse of university funds." Smith sued KSU, and the university eventually made a payment to Smith as part of a settlement agreement.

After interviewing the four finalists, the board of education offered Smith the position, making him the first African-American male to serve as a superintendent in the state of Kentucky.

"The decision wasn't easy," board member Joe F. Mattingly said, "and there will be those in the district who will question our decision."

But Mattingly was comfortable with the outcome of the superintendent search.

"I really believe we've got a candidate [Smith] that has a whole lot to offer," he said. "He will throw his whole heart into the position."

Smith officially took on his duties as superintendent July 1, and barely a month into the job, some controversy arose when Smith began using a board-owned vehicle to make the 56-mile round trip drive from his home in Harrodsburg to Marion County and back each day for work.

According to Smith, it was a "perk" of the job.

That "perk" also included filling the tank with the school district's gas at the bus garage. And it's a perk that the Marion County Board of Education approved.

However, after the Enterprise published an editorial regarding Smith's use of the board-owned vehicle, the board unanimously approved a policy that would allow Smith to drive the vehicle to and from his home when attending early morning meetings or late afternoon meetings in counties that are outside of his regular route to Marion County. Smith and his family have not yet moved to Marion County. They continue to reside in Harrdosburg.

During his first six months on the job, Smith has achieved one of his goals, which was to meet as many people as he could. In fact, in November, he began having a series of meetings to get more parents involved in local schools. The meetings targeted four specific groups: African American parents, parents of free and reduced lunch students and special education students (what he referred to as the "gap kids") and parents of gifted students. According to Smith, 22 parents signed up to be on his Parent Advisory Committee.

Smith's performance as superintendent will be the subject of conversation during a special called meeting Jan. 19, 2010, which has been scheduled to complete a mid-year superintendent evaluation.

4.) Sunday alcohol sales City and county approve packaged alcohol sales on Sunday   In December of 2008, the Lebanon City Council approved allowing restaurants and clubs to serve alcohol by the drink on Sundays.

Prior to that vote, Mimi Crum, who opposed the council's decision, warned that allowing Sunday sales would likely just be the first step.

"If Sunday sales at restaurants are approved, I feel the next step would be Sunday sales at package stores," she said in December of 2008.

Crum's words proved accurate, when in May of this year the city council was asked to reconsider alcohol sales. Bardstown had approved an ordinance allowing packaged alcohol sales, and the Lebanon City Council was being pushed to do the same.

Supporters touted alcohol sales as necessary for local businesses to stay competitive with neighboring counties and as an aid to tourism. In fact, the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission unanimously endorsed Sunday sales. Opponents of Sunday sales argued that the cons of allowing Sunday sales outweighed the potential benefits.

A divided city council voted to approve Sunday packaged alcohol sales in July, but the process by which the decision was made became a minor controversy as well. The council approved the first reading of the revised alcohol sales ordinance July 13. Council members Denise Fogle, Kenny Marrett, Kate Palagi and Bill Pickerill voted in favor of the revised ordinance. Council members Jim Richardson and Elizabeth Ann Osbourne voted against the revised ordinance.

Two days later, the council approved the second reading during a special-called meeting. The council voted 4-1 in favor of the second reading. Osbourne was not present at the July 17 meeting.

The Rev. Darren Gillespie appealed to the council to postpone its vote during the special-called meeting.

"We, as citizens, need some time to look at this," he told the council.

Mayor Gary Crenshaw responded that Sunday sales had been debated publicly well before the council's decision.

"This is an issue we've been talking about for several months," he said at the July 17 meeting.

The day after the city approved Sunday packaged sales, proponents encouraged the Marion County Fiscal Court to take similar action. The vote by county officials was closer than it was in the city, but the Sunday sales prevailed again. On its first reading, the fiscal court voted 3-2 in favor of Sunday package sales. Magistrates Larry Caldwell, John Arthur Elder III and Steve Masterson supported the change, while Magistrates Roger "Cotton" Smothers and Jackie Wicker cast the opposing votes.

"If Kroger or Wal-Mart is going to be able to sell on Sunday, why can't the corner food mart in Loretto or why can't a small local grocery store out in the county?" Elder said at the time of the vote. "They're trying to feed their families and make a living as well."

Smothers argued that the county could be a leader on this issue by opposing Sunday sales.

"I think it's wrong. It's wrong for the county. It's wrong for the community. It's wrong for our youth," he said. "We're sending the wrong message to our youth if we pick this up and pass this ordinance."

In the end, the county voted 3-1 to approve the second reading during its Aug. 20 meeting, thus allowing Sunday sales in the wet precincts within the county. Smothers was not present for that meeting.

5.) Fire starters Ex-firefighters accused of arson

In October, a Marion County grand jury indicted four former firefighters on charges of arson, burglary, criminal mischief and wanton endangerment.

The indictments were issued against Melinda Orberson, 22, of 1615 Siloam Road in Bradfordsville; Steven E. Orberson, 19, of Gravel Switch; Frederick E. Tate, 21, of 608 Dove Court in Harrodsburg; and James Robert Tate, 25, of 400 W. Fifth Street in Perryville.

The indictments stem from incidents that occurred on or about Oct. 13 and Nov. 3, 2008, and March 17 and May 11, 2009.

The Kentucky State Police arrested the Obersons and Tates in July following an internal investigation by the Boyle County Fire Department. The four individuals arrested were volunteer firefighters with the Boyle County and Gravel Switch fire departments, according to the state police.

The four ex-firefighters were also indicted in Boyle County on arson and other charges.

All of the blazes are alleged to have been intentionally set at barns and abandoned buildings at seven locations around Boyle County on six different days in 2008 and 2009.

Kentucky State Police arson investigator Pat Alford said all four have admitted to their roles in the fires.

"They were all in their early 20s and slept all day and stayed up all night," Alford said in The Danville Advocate-Messenger, explaining the motive behind the fires. "They just didn't have anything to do."

6.) Yes We Can! Barack Obama becomes the first African-American President of the United States   On Jan. 20, Barack Obama became the first African-American man inaugurated as President of the United States. And several Marion Countians were there to witness it.

"The joy of the crowd was just amazing," Tommy Calhoun of Lebanon said. "I could see God has a part in all things."

But, Calhoun wasn't Marion County's only connection to the inauguration. Middle school and college students were at the National Mall that cold day among a crowd that has been estimated by some national media sources to be as large as two million people.

After the invocation by Rick Warren, a song by Aretha Franklin and the swearing in of Vice-President Joe Biden, Obama took the oath and gave his address. According to Campbellsville University political science major Emily Buckman, who attended the inauguration with the CU Collegiate Historians, people were proud to be present for the historic ceremony.

"I will always be able to say I saw the first African-American President being sworn in," she said.

One particular moment in Obama's speech was especially memorable for Buckman.

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall," Obama said, "and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

7.) Special election Higdon takes over state senate seat   Dan Kelly stepped down as the state senator from the 14th District in late October. He was appointed Oct. 26 to the 11th Judicial Circuit, Division One, seat by Gov. Steve Beshear.

With his resignation, a special election was declared to find Kelly's replacement.

Jodie Haydon, a former state representative from Bardstown, was selected as the Democratic nominee, while State Rep. Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon was nominated by the Republicans.

The campaigns and their supporters traded barbs in television, radio and print advertisements. Higdon's supporters ran ads comparing Haydon with Nancy Pelosi, and urging voters to avoid one-party control in Frankfort. On Haydon's behalf, outside organizations ran ads criticizing Higdon for votes he missed and accusing him of supporting spending cuts for education, prisons and health care.

One of the most publicly discussed differences between the two candidates was their positions regarding video lottery terminals. VLTs, similar to electronic slot machines, have been touted as a way to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the state.

Haydon spoke in favor of allowing VLTs at the five racetracks in Kentucky, arguing that it would benefit the horse industry. Higdon said he preferred to put the VLT issue to a vote of the public, rather than having the legislature make that decision.

Higdon won the election with 56.1 percent of the vote, including 67.1 percent of the votes cast in Marion County. Higdon wound up winning four of the five counties in the 14th District - Marion, Mercer, Taylor and Washington counties - while Haydon won Nelson County.

State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, administered the oath of office to Higdon Dec. 16 at Marion County High School. Lee was the first MCHS graduate elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. Higdon is the first MCHS graduate elected to the Kentucky Senate.

Higdon's election to the state senate has created another vacancy, however, in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

A special election will be held Feb. 2, 2010 to fill the now-vacant 24th District House seat, which represents Marion and Casey counties and a portion of Pulaski County.

8.) Final justice KSP liable in teen's death   More than 13 years after LeBron Gaither's murder, the Kentucky Board of Claims found the Kentucky State Police liable in his death. The Board of Claims issued a final order Dec. 8 in which the board ruled that the police were liable for $168,729.90 in damages.

LeBron Gaither had turned 18 years old just days before he was killed July 17, 1996, in Casey County near the Casey-Taylor County line.

Gaither had been working as a drug informant for the state police, and his death was the result of a meeting he had with a drug dealer he had testified against before a grand jury the preceding day.

"It is the opinion of the members of the Board of Claims that the detectives failed to use any significant judgment; their conduct constituted the negligent performance of a series of ministerial duties," reads the final order issued Nov. 19.

For Gaither's family, the Board of Claims decision offered some final justice for him.

"The family is pleased with the decision, but it doesn't replace him by any means," said Shawn Gaither, LeBron's brother.

The money will help reimburse Virginia Gaither for some of the expenses she has incurred over the years, including the funeral expenses, a headstone and a burial plot. But, according to Shawn Gaither, no amount of money can take away the pain of losing his younger brother. But he said the family is pleased with the Board of Claims' decision.

"We took it as some final justice for him," Shawn Gaither said.

Dan Taylor, the attorney from Louisville who has represented the Gaither family for 13 years, said the Board of Claims should be commended for its decision.

He added that there needs to be accountability for law enforcement, and he encouraged the legislature to pass laws regulating the use of confidential informants.

Lt. David Jude, the spokesperson for the state police, said they would seek to appeal the Board of Claims decision. Before the state police can seek an appeal, however, they must first seek permission from the Attorney General's office (under KRS 44.140).

9.) Swine flu kills Marion Countian Virus widespread, but no reason to panic   The swine flu claimed the life of a Marion Countian and approximately 12 cases of the virus were confirmed in the county during the year.

The Marion Countian who died was a man in his 40s who had underlying health conditions, according to Gwenda Bond, an assistant communications director with the cabinet. The family of the man has requested that his name not be released.

According to health officials, H1N1 activity is still considered widespread, but the state of Kentucky is seeing a downturn in the number of cases being reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11 states continue to report widespread influenza activity, including Kentucky, as well as Alabama, Alaska, California, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, and Virginia.

As of press time, 1,752 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed statewide, and 36 deaths have been reported.

Since Aug. 30, 2009, 60,113 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed nationwide and 1,630 deaths have been confirmed (as of press time).

10.) Mission accomplished Phase II of Centre Square is finally complete

After more than a decade of planning, renovating and spending, the City of Lebanon celebrated the grand opening of the cultural and performing arts center at Centre Square on Thursday, July 30.

The facility includes Angelic Hall auditorium and a sculpture in memory of Gene and Nadine Spragens, who were both very supportive of the arts during their lifetimes.

The Centre Square project has been in the works since 1995, when the Centre Square Committee was formed to evaluate whether to demolish or renovate the vacant Lebanon High School and Junior High School buildings.

The 10-acre site was purchased by the City of Lebanon in 1998 for $400,000. The complex included the school buildings, Johnston Athletic Field, a shop and agriculture building and the former Marion County Board of Education building.

The vision was to preserve the history of the buildings by renovating the structures and also creating a multi-purpose facility that would benefit the entire community.

Renovation of the former Lebanon Junior High School building and construction of the outdoor stage began in 1993, and was completed in 2003 at a total cost of $1.4 million. Phase II construction including grounds enhancements and renovation of the former Lebanon High School building began in 2004, and was completed in 2009, at a total cost of $3.6 million.

Several concerts and performances have taken place in the new Centre Square complex, specifically Angelic Hall, since its completion.