Top 10 local stories of 2013

Anthony Cloud Staff Writer

December 30, 2013

As people look in their rear view at what was 2013, they will see plenty of newsworthy events that took place both on a national scale and locally. In national news, people witnessed the first partial government shutdown in 17 years, media-ridden trials involving Jodi Arias and George Zimmerman and the Obama health care debacle.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of local stories that involved Bell County and its citizens. Now it’s time to take a look back at some of the most relevant stories of 2013:

10. In February, a Bell County businessman entered a guilty plea in U.S. Federal Court regarding an interstate money laundering scheme. John Slusher pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Slusher was forced to pay $386,000 and make full financial disclosure to the United States. He was also forced to forfeit real property at 120 Kentucky Avenue in Pineville and several motorcycles.

9. The nation experienced a sequester in the early part of 2013. This meant $85 billion in automatic budget cuts including vital services for children, senior citizens, people with illnesses and the military. The national parks were also affected. Due to the cautious nature of the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, the park was prepared.

8. In August, the Vietnam Moving Memorial Wall made its way to Middlesboro. The city held a ceremony to announce the walls arrival in the city parking lot, which concluded with fireworks. The wall contains each individual who died serving their country during the Vietnam War. The wall contains 58,282 names, with 39 of those names coming from the tri-county area.

7. In June, several criminal and civil complaints were filed against Lee Motors and two former employees. Lee Motor bookkeeper Mildred Campbell and former general manager James Steven Bailey were charged with theft by failure to make required disposition. There were allegedly several cases where individuals traded vehicles to the dealership and the traded vehicles were not paid off by the corporation. There was one reported instance where the tax bill for registration was paid to the company and the money allegedly never made it to the clerk’s office. The dealership eventually shut down.

6. This year marked the first time in 17 years the government partially shutdown. Locally, that meant the Cumberland Gap National Park closed temporarily. The shutdown also had the potential to threaten WIC benefits and other important services.

5. In August, two men were killed, one man committed suicide and one woman was wounded after an altercation took place. Former Knox County Judge-Executive Raymond Smith entered a residence on Laurel Lakes Road and fatally shot Michael and Michael Dustin Smith, the father and brother of Robin Smith, killing both the men. Robin Smith was also shot and flown to UT Medical Hospital and treated for her wounds. Raymond Smith later took his own life.

4. The Affordable Care Act (also known as ObamaCare) has been in debate since it passed into law. This year the law began ruffling feathers as issues with the website caused problems for some attempting to apply for health insurance. Locally, Appalachian Regional Hospital made a move to stop seeing non-insured, non-emergent patients beginning in January. In Virginia, Lee Medical Center closed claiming part of the reason was due to reimbursement cuts associated with ObamaCare.

3. In the latter half of the year, Bell County Clerk Becky Blevins and deputy clerks Connie Watkins, Kayla Carnes and Flora Ferrell were arrested for several crimes involving forgery and theft. The investigation identified more than 50 individuals who bought vehicles from outside of Kentucky and never received a tax refund that they were owed. Blevins, Ferrell and Carnes are accused of keeping approximately $12,200 in refunds. Watkins is accused of assisting in the scheme.

Blevins, Carnes and Watkins were indicted by a grand jury. Blevins was indicted for two counts of abuse of public trust less than $10,000, one count of abuse of public trust over $10,000 and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. Carnes was indicted on five counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, and Watkins was indicted for second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. The charge against Ferrell was dropped.

2. In April when a trial nearly five years in the making took place. Candy Maiden, Brian Hatfield and Debbie Partin stood trial for the 2008 murder of Frakes man William Taylor. Each individual was found guilty of complicity to commit murder at the end of the month long trial. All defendants received the minimal 20-year sentence. The fourth individual involved in the murder, Jeremy C. Evans, pleaded guilty in 2012 to criminal facilitation to commit murder and was sentenced in July to seven years in the penitentiary.

1. Bell County native Jimmy Rose took the nation by storm as he made his way all the way to the finals of America’s Got Talent. After following his dream and trying his luck at a different singing competition (the Voice), Rose landed a spot on the AGT roster. His song “Coal Keeps The Lights On” helped carry Rose to a third place finish on the show. Rose’s success brought plenty of exposure to the region and Pineville.

Rose competed against other singers, comedians and multi-talented opposition. In the finale, he placed above singer Cami Bradley (sixth), magician Collins Key (fifth) and the singing trio known as Forte (fourth). The act that took second place was comedian Taylor Williamson and the winner was dancer Kenichi Ebina.