2009 started with tragedy. In January, the home of Brandy Harris and Travis Barton in the Noetown community of Middlesboro caught fire in the early morning and killed two children, sending their parents to the hospital for treatment. A cigarette was suspected to have been the cause of the blaze.
Also in January, the unthinkable happened to an elderly man in the Turkey Creek community of Pineville. 70-year-old Paul Slusher was robbed, bound and gagged, and dumped into the Cumberland River allegedly by two Pineville residents. The murder trial for suspects Lora Amburgey and James Parsons is scheduled for April 6, 2010.
On the heels of the Slusher murder, a woman went missing in Middlesboro and was never found. Katherine Heck wandered away from her home on Sunday Feb. 2 and never came back. Reportedly, she was last seen falling down a hill near 46th Street. Emergency crews and members of the community came together and searched for months to no avail. Anyone with any information about Heck’s whereabouts is urged to contact the Middlesboro Police Department at (606)248-3636.
In April, a body was found in the Blackmont community at the Tackett Hill Cemetery. The body of James C. “Jamie” Kelly, age 42 of Tazewell, Tenn., was discovered by a local resident visiting the cemetery, who made a 911 call. Kentucky State Police could not provide any information concerning the death at that time, the family held a vigil in the fall.
The tragedy of Bell County Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Pursifull and his K-9 deputy King finally saw resolution in 2009. David Poppiti pleaded guilty in May to the wanton murder of Pursifull and evasion of police. He was sentenced in Bell County Circuit Court to 20 years and five years to be served consecutively. Poppiti crashed his vehicle into Pursifull’s parked cruiser after a high-speed police chase lead by Kentucky State Police on Jan. 10, 2008, killing the officer and his K-9 partner.
The former mayor of Pineville and his son were sentenced to prison in London federal court in August for buying votes in the 2006 Pineville mayoral election. Ex-mayor Robert L. “Bob” Madon was sentenced to 20 months and his son Brent Madon was sentenced to a year in prison. The prosecution said that the investigation actually began by “accident” while UNITE, an anti-narcotic organization, was investigating low-level drug traffickers. Sherwin Rader was appointed mayor after the scandal removed Madon from office.
In September, Middlesboro saw a chemical spill at its largest employer. During an expansion project, Smithfield — which bought Cumberland Gap Provisions — spilled anhydrous ammonia into Parker Branch and Yellow Creek, wiping out all of the fish in its wake, according to responders. The company faces a maximum penalty of $125,000 in January.
In November, a former Bell County dentist indicted for Medicaid fraud, drug trafficking, and jury tampering pleaded guilty in Bell County Circuit Court. Craig Ralston entered a guilty plea under conditions that charges against him for jury tampering would be dismissed. Ralston will be sentenced to five years in prison on Jan. 4, 2010 at 9 a.m.
A Lee County woman was killed outside of her home in November. Brenda Fay Domer of Rose Hill in the Giles Hollow Community died from head trauma, according to the State Medical Examiner’s autopsy. Lee authorities are chasing two suspects.
A snow storm in December blanketed much of the region, knocking out power in most of the county and making travel treacherous.