The death of a Hope man is being investigated as a homicide after his body was discovered in the aftermath of a structure fire. The remains of 20-year-old Thomas Youngblood, 221 Pritchard, Hope were found after the Hope Fire Department answered a call to the house around 2:00 am Tuesday morning (10/28/14). Hope Police officers reported the house to be fully engulfed. After extinguishing the fire, Hope Fire Department discovered a body which has now been identified as Youngblood. The Hope Police Department investigation is continuing.
(Wednesday, October 29, 2014)
A Kirby School student was struck Monday afternoon crossing the highway after exiting her school bus. Dead is 12-year-old Jazmin Hernandez with a rural Glenwood address. According to a preliminary report by Arkansas State Trooper Benjamin Harrison, the eastbound school bus was stopped unloading passengers in front of the girl's house when a 2001 Ford Explorer traveling westbound allegedly failed to yield to the bus and struck the child. Trooper Harrison said "all emergency lights and signals were activated on the bus."
Arkansas State Police have identified the driver of the Ford Explorer as Dwight L. Moody, 88, of Delight. Information in the case has been termed over to Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Chesshir for his office to determine if charges will be filed.
(Wednesday, October 29, 2014)
10 new jobs are coming to Antoine Hardwoods after the company received a $12,500 grant to buy new equipment at its Antoine mill in Clark County. Pictured is Eric Hughes, chairman of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, presenting the check to Greg Rubach of Antoine Hardwoods on behalf of the Economic Development Corporation of Clark County, along with Stephen Bell, president and CEO of the Alliance.
(Wednesday, October 29, 2014)
The Hempstead County Sheriff's Office and Hope Police Department have a night filled with fun, games, food and scares Halloween evening (10-31-14) at the Sheriff's Office/Police Department as the agencies host their Annual Community Halloween Party. There will be games for children and a costume contest. Hours are 5:00 to 7:00 pm.
(Wednesday, October 29, 2014)
The death of a Hot Springs woman who exited a moving vehicle Friday afternoon in Hempstead County near Nashville is currently under investigation. Arkansas State Police say Tiffany Paige Koonce, 18, of Hot Springs, was a passenger in a 2005 Chevrolet traveling northbound on Highway 27 near the intersection with Hempstead County Road 34. The preliminary report says Koonce "exited the moving vehicle where she sustained fatal injuries." She was pronounced dead at the scene by Hempstead County Coroner Ben Brazzel. The vehicle was driven by Justin Travers, 28, of Delight. Arkansas State Trooper Travis Hale is investigating.
(Friday, October 24, 2014)
The Canaan Baptist Church in Texarkana, Arkansas was constructed in 1929 for the ancestors of the congregation it serves today. The congregation of the Canaan Baptist Church was organized in 1883. The congregation first worshiped at a church building located at 816 Laurel Street, approximately two blocks away from the site of the present structure. The building was built by T.L. Bentley, a local builder, and was designed by S.C. Cox, architect. Learn more by reading the National Register nomination, hosted online by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program: http://bit.ly/1wruoDU. Photo courtesy of Wayne Kizziar, www.LandmarkHunter.com.
(Sunday, October 26, 2014)
The Howard County Sheriff's Office is investigating the death of a Nashville insurance agent. Wednesday morning, officers found 67-year-old William "Bill" Fritts dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound outside his home in the Blue Bayou Estates near Nashville. Fritts was found by a close friend who reported the incident. He was pronounced dead at the scene by the Howard County Coroner. The incident is being investigated by the Howard County Sheriff's Office and the Howard County Coroner's Office.
(Thursday, October 23, 2014)
Famous Arkansan: Thomas Melvin Hinton (1906-1975) was a classically trained artist who produced many realistic and impressionistic oil paintings, watercolors and drawings. His paintings won many awards in Arkansas and nationally, and are on permanent exhibit at museums and other venues. Hinton was born on October 4, 1906, to a prominent Texarkana couple. Hinton became known as a talented artist and entered the Chicago Art Institute. Following graduation, he went to work for Hatch-Sattley Advertising Agency in Chicago. Vogue Studios offered him a better job doing men's fashion illustrations for the Montgomery Ward catelogue, but he was laid off after a year due to the Depression. Hinton freelanced in Chicago for a few months afterward, but, finding little work, he returned to the family home in Texarkana in 1932. In the fall of 1932, Hinton painted the only authorized portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which was purchased by the Roosevelt family, and he was soon commissioned by Senator Margie Neal, co-director of the Democratic National Campaign for Texas, to paint a copy of that portrait to be used in Roosevelt's presidential campaign. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1qDaolT or http://www.thomashintoncollection.com/. Pictured is Self Portrait and Ashdown Mill.
(Wednesday, October 22, 2014)
Columbus Volunteer Fire Department has picked up a Freightliner tractor from the Arkansas Forestry Commission as part of their Rural Fire Program. Columbus firemen plan to outfit the rig as a water tender to transport water to fires. Photo courtesy Arkansas Forestry Commission.
(Tuesday, October 21, 2014)
Here's a photo of the Wolff store and post office at Bingen. "Dr. H.R. Wolff, the first postmaster, a native of North Carolina, is generally credited with selecting the name for the town. He was of German descent, and said to have had a liking for the scenic German town of Bingen-on-the-Rhine. Dr. Wolff settled in Arkansas around 1859, and was the Bingen postmaster around 1870. Some say the original name of the place was Ozan. Source: Arkansas Place Names by Earnie Deane." (The name was apparently changed because another Ozan existed only a few miles away and the mail kept getting mixed up.)
(For a Bingen story; http://www.reubenleslie.com/BingenMyHomeTown.htm)
(Tuesday, October 21, 2014)
With hunting seasons beginning, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is issuing a reminder on the emergency ban on the importation of firewood on all AGFC-owned wildlife management areas to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer. Precautionary measures are also underway to prevent the spread into Arkansas' national wildlife refuges.
The insect has been discovered in six southwest Arkansas counties. The counties are Nevada, Clark, Ouachita, Columbia, Dallas, and Hot Spring. It was first discovered in Michigan in 2002 and has since killed tens of millions of trees. The insects feed on and are likely to kill all of Arkansas' ash species.
Firewood can easily transport harmful foreign pests and diseases causing other problems to our forests, according to AGFC forester Martin Blaney. "Wood that looks clean may actually be concealing insects like the emerald ash borer," Blaney said.
The three NWAs within the quarantine zone, Felsenthal, Overflow and Pond Creek, also will suspend firewood cutting permits for home heating purposes.
For the NWRs that allow camping, the following conditions apply: 1) individuals may collect downed trees, logs or limbs no more than 100 feet from roads and trails open to motorized vehicles, 2 ) it is prohibited to damage standing trees or habitat, 3) on public roads all debris must be removed from the road, shoulders and ditches, 4) all vehicles including ATVs and UTVs must remain on designated roads or trails, 5) all refuge regulations apply and will be strictly enforced.
"First and foremost, it is our priority to protect our forests and wildlife resources from such threats," says Michael Stroeh, Project Leader of South Arkansas Refuges Complex. "Cooperative efforts from both state and federal levels to prohibit imported firewood and quarantine unaffected areas of the state is crucial at such time."
(Tuesday, October 21, 2014)
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Fisheries Division says they stocked 1.7 million fish weighing 105,200 pounds in Arkansas waters in September. In southwest Arkansas:
*Dierks Lake-2,760 yearling channel catfish
*De Queen Lake-3,240 yearling channel catfish
Gillham Lake-1,440 yearling channel catfish
Lake Greeson-1,300,000 fingerling redear bream
Lower White Oak Lake-5,000 yearling channel catfish
(Tuesday, October 21, 2014)
Former President Bill Clinton returned to Hope Saturday to headline a Democrat Party event at the Visitors Center downtown, featuring another Hope native Mike Ross. Several hundred people were present for the event that also showcased several other national and state party candidates.
(Sunday, October 19, 2014)
The Anderson-Hobson Mercantile Store at 201 Schuman Street in downtown Foreman in Little River County, was built in 1910, during the first decade of growth after the arrival of the Arkansas and Choctaw Railroad (later Frisco) as a commercial building. The store is a two-story, brick masonry building designed in the Italianate style. The building was added to the National Registry Places on June 20, 1996. Photo courtesy http://forgottenexplorers.net/
(Sunday, October 19, 2014)
Georgia-Pacific Thursday announced plans to invest $37 million dollars at its Gurdon lumber operations to expand the production capacity of the lumber mill by approximately 60 percent. Improvements at the lumber mill include the installation of a new continuous dry kiln and a state-of-the-art planer mill, along with related infrastructure improvements. Project completion is expected by the third quarter of 2015.
"As the housing market continues a slow, but steady improvement, our plans to invest at Gurdon ensure our ability to meet the growing needs of our customers and become their lumber supplier of choice," said Fritz Mason, vice president and general manager for Georgia-Pacific's lumber business. "This is an opportunity to broaden our product offerings, enhance quality and improve our cost competitiveness."
The company is also evaluating additional investments, totaling approximately $20 million dollars, at the nearby Gurdon plywood mill that would increase the mill's efficiency and capacity, as well as further reduce air emissions.
The Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance will provide local support through the Clark County economic development sales tax. Eric Hughes, chairman of the Alliance said, "Georgia-Pacific has been a great corporate citizen in Gurdon for many years, providing hundreds of jobs in Clark County."
"This is exciting news for our community and state," said Stephen Bell, president and CEO of the Alliance. "We have been working alongside Mayor Clayton Franklin and other community leaders to upgrade the sewer treatment plant, along with increasing the treatment plant's capacity, at the City of Gurdon-a key element to Georgia-Pacific's expansion effort."
"This is a win-win for the citizens of Gurdon and Georgia-Pacific," added Clark County Judge Ron Daniell. "These upgrades will not only support Georgia-Pacific's expansion, but will help us in our effort to recruit more industry to Gurdon."
"Georgia-Pacific is among the top three largest manufacturing employers in Arkansas," said Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. "This significant expansion investment in Gurdon confirms Geporgia-Pacific's commitment to doing business in Arkansas and is a testimony to the company's confidence in the local workforce."
Georgia-Pacific has eight facilities in Arkansas, including the Hope Particleboard Plant in the Oakhaven Industrial Park. The company employs approximately 2,700 people directly in the state of Arkansas, with approximately 630 located at the Gurdon operations. Total direct compensation and benefits for Arkansas employees is about $205 million dollars, resulting in approximately $446 million dollars in indirect wages and benefits.
(Thursday, October 16, 2014)
As with the last several storm systems, the Saratoga area again escaped the brunt. Not the same story in the Ashdown area, as one man is dead and his wife critically injured, along with minor injuries to their three children. The National Weather Service in Shreveport says an EF-2 tornado packing winds of 111-135 mph picked up a mobile home from its foundation and carried it about 50 feet before it fell back to the ground and exploded. Killed was Eddie Withem. His wife Roxanne was critically injured and is being treated at a Texarkana hospital. Their three children sustained cuts and bruises and have been released to their grandparents.
(Monday, October 13, 2014)
A former manager of the Ideal Cement Plant at Okay and Saratoga School System educator has died. Byron Damon Thompson, 85, of Little Rock, died Thursday. Thompson was born in Saratoga. He first became a resident of Howard County when his family moved from the Hempstead side of Saratoga to the company village of Okay where his father was a supervisor at the newly constructed Ideal Cement Plant.
After graduating from Saratoga High School in 1946, Byron enlisted in the U.S. Navy and after basic training was assigned to the medical corps at Long Beach Naval Hospital until his honorable discharge in 1948. Following his discharge, Byron attended Arkansas State Teachers College at Conway, where he was a member of the varsity basketball team and president of Sigma Tau Gama Fraternity. In 1950 he transferred to Henderson State Teachers College in Arkadelphia where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education.
Thompson tuaght and coached at both Saratoga and Hope before leaving the coaching and teaching profession to accept employment with Ideal Cement Company at Okay as Personnel Director and Safety Supervisor. In 1963 Byron became Plant Manager and remained in that capacity until 1979 when he was transferred to Denver, Colorado, as Regional Manager/Southern Region. At the time of his retirement from Ideal Basic Industries in 1984 he was Senior Vice President.
While living in Howard County, Byron was active in both school and civic affairs while serving as Member and President of the Saratoga-Okay School Board, Member and President of the Nashville School Board, Howard County Memorial Hospital Board, President of Nashville Rotary Club, and Board Member of Howard County Children's Center. He also actively participated in Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball programs serving as both coach and league commissioner.
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Margaret, and their three children, as well as other family members.
Funeral services will be Wednesday, September 3 at 2:00 pm at Latimer Funeral Home in Nashville. Burial will follow in Nashville Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made in his name to the Children's Home, Inc. 5515 Walcott Road, Paragould, Arkansas 72450; or to Ship of Life, c/o Windsong Church of Christ, #3 Windsong Lane, North Little Rock, Arkansas 72113.
(Saturday, August 30, 2014)
Southwest Arkansas Intermodal Authority President Lewis Diggs (left) presents a Plaque of Excellence to Cliff McKinney for his service to the Authority. This was at a recent meeting in Glenwood. Diggs was Superintendent of the Saratoga School District from 1989-to-1999.
(Tuesday, July 29, 2014)
We had a request to repeat a couple of photos we have used recently for our masthead. The first shot is of a scene at the Braswell Gravel Pit near Wilton, from the Don Ross collection. The second shot from the Ernie Deane collection is of a Louisiana and Arkansas (KCS) train passing through Stamps on the old Hope Subdivision. Nothing in the shots exist anymore...
(Monday, July 28, 2014)
Saratoga native Bryan McJunkins has been elected Howard County Sheriff & Collector. McJunkins defeated Nashville Police Chief Dale Pierce 2091 to 544 in complete but unofficial results from the Democrat Party primary election Tuesday. Longtime Sheriff Randall "Butch" Morris is retiring at the end of this term December 31. McJunkin's father Frankie McJunkins, an investigator with the Hempstead County Sheriff's Office, and his grandparents Frank and Nita McJunkins, are all Saratoga residents.
In other local election results, Ben Brazzel was re-elected Hempstead County Coroner, beating challenger Scott Brown 783-691. Angie Lewis was elected Howard County Circuit Clerk, defeating Laurie Westfall 1752-855. Lewis will replace the retiring Bobbie Jo Green.
(Tuesday, May 20, 2014)
Jennifer Harland (left) of AEP/SWEPCO presented a check for $2,500 to McNab Mayor James T. Conway (right) and McNab Park Chairman Shelia Jackson Tuesday (5/13) at the McNab Community Center. The community grant also joins a $1,000 festival grant given to McNab. Join Harland and the McNab delegation was Turk Plant Manager Tim Gross. Mayor Conway is Postmaster Relief at Saratoga. Photo by Mark Keith.
(Tuesday, May 13, 2014)
The Arkansas State Board of Education Thursday voted to remove the Mineral Springs School District from the Fiscal Distress Classification and State Control effective October 1, 2014. The Arkansas Department of Education made the recommendation at a state board meeting Thursday, May 8 in Little Rock.
The Mineral Springs School District was classified in Fiscal Distress for the 2012-13 school year. The Department of Education says the district has currently corrected all criteria to be removed from Fiscal Distress and state control (reconstitution) effective October 1, after a school board is elected and receives training.
The Department will certify in writing the district has corrected all criteria and has complied with all the Department recommendations and requirements for removal from Fiscal Distress. Subsequent to a district receiving this notice of compliance, the district may petition the State Board for removal from Fiscal Distress. The State Board agenda says the district petitioned for removal.
The Mineral Springs School District was taken over by the state and the local board removed in May of 2013 by Commissioner Tom Kimbrell. At the time, Kimbrell's office in a press release said, "Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and staff, state action had to be taken now." Unquote.
In the same press release, it states, quote, "The action was taken to immediately move toward stabilizing the finances and management of the troubled district in Howard County. The district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." Unquote.
The district had an ending balance of over $920,000 dollars. Part of Kimbrell's order was the closing of Saratoga Elementary School.
(Thursday, May 8, 2014)
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell has been named the superintendent of the Bryant, Arkansas School District. That action was taken at a school board meeting Thursday night. Kimbrell will assume the position July 1.
Kimbrell has 30 years in education, being named by Governor Mike Beebe as Education Commissioner in 2009. He's previously been superintendent of the Paragould and North Little Rock school districts. He's currently a resident of Cabot.
Bryant School District has 11 schools with nearly 8800 students.
It was action by Kimbrell in May 2013 to take-over the Mineral Springs School District, and dissolve the local school board. Included was an order to close the Saratoga Elementary School. In a news release from the Arkansas Department of Education in May 2013, ADE said..."the district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." The district ended the 2012-13 fiscal year with a positive balance of over $900,000.
(Thursday, April 24, 2014)
This is the best modern-era view of the Ideal Cement Plant at Okay I have located. This probably dates to the 1960s based on the automobiles and the fact the smokestacks are still in operation. "Scrubbers" were installed later next to the stacks. Behind the left stack is Southern Cement Transport. The light-colored road just beyond the left stack would be the end of the road that's still there today. On the left side of the image is the corner of a white building where the offices and laboratory was located. In front of this building would be a safety monument, the only thing still standing of the plant complex. Sue Porter Reed collection.
(Saturday, April 5, 2014)
Mrs. Betty Lou Gilbert, age 80, of Cross Roads, Arkansas (Hempstead County), passed away, Sunday, March 16 at her home. She was a longtime employee of Ideal Cement/Holnam at Okay and was the Chairperson for the Save Okay Cement Plant group. She was also former Chairperson of the Hempstead County Democratic Women, former Secretary & Treasurer of Cross Roads Volunteer Fire Department, former Secretary & Treasurer of Yellow Creek Cemetery and was a former member of the Good Life Singers. She attended Old Liberty Community Church, as music leader and was a former choir member of First United Methodist Church of Hope.
Mrs. Gilbert is survived by her husband of 61 years, Charles William Gilbert, as well as a son and daughter and three grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 6:00 to 8:00 pm Tuesday at Brazzel/Oakcrest Funeral Home, 1001 South Main in Hope.
Funeral services will be at 2:00 pm Wednesday at Old Liberty Community Church off 195 between Cross Roads and Fulton, with burial in Westmoreland Cemetery at Cross Roads.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to Westmoreland Cemetery, c/o Mrs. Bonnie Jo Kaufman, 1147 Highway 185 South, Washington, Arkansas 71862, or Old Liberty Community Church, c/o Rebecca Cledenen, 120 Hempstead 10, Fulton, Arkansas 71838.
(Monday, March 17, 2014)
A long-time southwest Arkansas broadcaster has announced he's leaving as general manager of a local television station. Terry Snead will depart Nashville television station KJEP on February 28 after slightly over 12 years at the helm. Snead told Saratoga Arkansas Digest(1) Tuesday (1-28-14) the decision was necessary due "to declining funds for the station over the past 5-to-6 years and a desire to move to northwest Arkansas to be near his grandchildren."
Snead says "he feels privileged to be here and has enjoyed a good working relationship with the station's board and community." He said the "hard economic times has made it necessary for KJEP to consider a new direction that will allow the station to continue to operate." Snead said the programming includes local church services, civic activities and local sports, as well as programs from KJEP's affiliations with Family Net and The Walk TV.
Snead has been a fixture on the local airwaves since beginning his broadcasting career at KMLA Radio in Ashdown in 1972. He's also worked at KHPA Hope-Prescott, KARQ in Ashdown, KOSY and KTFS in Texarkana. His television work includes KTAL Channel 6 in Texarkana and KTSS in Hope. Snead is a lifelong resident of Ashdown.
(Tuesday, January 28, 2014)
We are using the top photo for our header this week, but a collection of photos in the Sue Porter Reed collection gives us "snapshots" from 54 years ago. This is the finals of the 1960 edition of the Saratoga Tournament in the days of girls half-court 6 on 6 play. This is the west end of the gym with the stage. The official that's facing in most of these shots is believed to be Mr. Francis Bell, who today is in his 90s and still cattle ranching. Notice the wooden backboard and the old score clock. The top stage curtain has"SHS" in large letters. Notice the P.A. speaker by the scoreboard. The stage was a prime place to watch games, albeit without a view of the scoreboard. The gym had balconies on both sides. I came along later, but Cokes and popcorn were sold at the back of the stage, which was probably the case here. Boys dressed in the school next door. Saratoga won both the boys and girls finals this year, 1960...
(Saturday, January 11, 2014)
For 82 years, the final preparations would normally be underway for the annual Southwest Arkansas Invitational Basketball Tournament in the M.H. Peebles Auditorium at Saratoga, which usually tipped off after school resumes from the Christmas break. But not this year. The Mineral Springs School District, operating under the control of the Arkansas Department of Education, did not schedule the tournament this year.
Upon assuming control of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District in May 2013, Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School. Saratoga High School had been closed earlier in the year. In assuming control of the school district, the Department of Education alleged the district, in a news release concerning Kimbrell's action, "...does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." Unquote. A small group of ABC Early Childhood students began the school year at Saratoga pending a building renovation on the Mineral Springs campus. The Saratoga facilities have since been padlocked.
The Saratoga tournament has been touted as being the oldest high school based tournament in the state tracing its lineage back to the 1930s, with suspension for World War II and when the old Saratoga gym and school burned in 1980. (The Two State Tournament in Junction City also lays claim to being the oldest, also at 82 years.) So for now, the Spring Hill Lady Bears and the Bradley Bears will remain the defending champions of the Southwest Arkansas Invitational Tournament.
(Sunday, January 5, 2014)
The Hempstead County Sheriff's Office is investigating a major copper theft on the shuttered Saratoga Schools campus. A maintenance worker for the Mineral Springs School District discovered seven outside air-conditioner units dismantled. The units were part of the elementary building and the James A. Stewart Educational Building. Deputy Jerry Crider reported the coil and copper tubing had been removed from the units. The investigation is continuing. Saratoga Schools is currently closed with all students being sent to the Mineral Springs campus.
(Tuesday, December 10, 2013)
From the collection of Clorene Gathright Greathouse, via our grandparents Tom and Ether Gathright...
(Saturday, December 7, 2013)
Robert Lomax (right), pictured with friends Ed and Frank Fontaine on the side of the old Saratoga Store building. Picture from the collection of Barbara Fontaine-Turner.)
As another Thanksgiving rolls around, so does the anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Lomax of Saratoga. Lomax went missing on the night of Thanksgiving 1992, and the case remains open and active at the Howard County Sheriff's Office.
Here's part of the narrative from the Sheriff's Office 1992 report: Witness statements reflect that Lomax had Thanksgiving dinner at the residence of Henry and Peggy Olden (he was a relative), who lived near him (on what is now called Chapel Hill Street) in Saratoga. He reportedly stayed until about 5:00 pm and left to walk the short distance home, saying "he needed the exercise." That was the last time he was seen alive.
An extensive search was conducted by then Sheriff Dick Wakefield and his department utilizing approximately 100 searchers and a helicopter. The search was called off after three days. Sheriff Wakefield believed foul play did exist in the matter and asked the Arkansas State Police to assist in the investigation.
Investigator Jerry Reed, now deceased, of the Arkansas State Police conducted interviews of people in the area and searched the Lomax residence. According to an unsolved case posting on the Howard County Sheriff's website is this statement, "Although there is no evidence of foul play at the residence, the feeling of local residents were that Mr. Lomax was robbed and killed. He was known to carry large amounts of cash on his person at all times."
Yours truly, the editor of Saratoga Arkansas Digest, was involved in the story and here is my account: "I was standing outside talking with Dornell Trotter when we were approached by Stanley Cephonis, who was in for a stay at his wife's family (Walkup) home. He had befriended Robert and told us he had taken a Thanksgiving plate of food by Robert's house Thanksgiving afternoon (when Mr. Lomax was probably at the Olden's) and went back Friday to get the plate, where he found it untouched. Dornell and myself start up to the house when we meet my cousin, Deputy (retired) Travis Hughes on routine patrol and tell him what's going on. We three then go to Robert's house and get no answer. Our first thought was he was inside dead. The door was locked, so Dornell was able to climb through a window and let us in. The house was cold. (Robert was very cold-natured.) Saturday morning the search started. Though Robert was 80, his mind was sharp and he walked everywhere, so we also immediately thought something bad had happened..."
An archeological dig in January 2010 near Saratoga and the area where Robert lived unearthed some human bones. Here's what Howard County Sheriff's Investigator told Saratoga Arkansas Digest for a news story at the time: "...an archeology team was working around Millwood Lake in Howard County near Saratoga and where Lomax was last seen when they discovered human bones on top of the ground. Investigator Shelton said that was uncommon. Due to the proximity of this location and where Lomax was last seen, the bones were sent to the Arkansas Crime Lab, who forwarded the remains to the Center for Human Identification in Dallas, Texas. A DNA sample was obtained from a known relative of Lomax. Shelton said the DNA was not a match, with the Dallas lab saying the bones were relatively old and were the remains of a Native American.
The disappearance is considered a homicide. Anyone having information about the disappearance of Robert Lomax is asked to contact the Criminal Investigation Division of the Howard County Sheriff's Department at 870-845-2626.
(Tuesday, November 25, 2013)
Buildings on the Saratoga Schools campus have had their doors chained and padlocked in the past few days. Saratoga Arkansas Digest observed the chains and locks on the Main Building (Elementary & Offices) and the M.H. Peebles Auditorium.
October 24 was the final day any students were on the campus as pre-school students were present until facilities on the Mineral Springs campus were readied.
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School May 16 when his agency assumed control of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District, dissolved the local board and appointed Curtis Turner Superintendent.
(Sunday, November 17, 2013)
At least for the time being, Thursday, October 24 will be the last day children will use the Saratoga School facilities. Pre-school students that have been on campus since the start of the school year will move to the Mineral Springs campus, effective Tuesday, October 29. Friday, October 25 and Monday, October 28 will be used to move equipment and materials. The children were at Saratoga pending construction work on a building at Mineral Springs.
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School May 16th when his agency assumed control of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District, dissolved the local board and appointed Curtis Turner Superintendent.
(Wednesday, October 23, 2013)
The Town of McNab and Mayor James Conway have gone on record urging the Arkansas Department of Education to re-open Saratoga School. In a called meeting September 3, the McNab Board of Directors adopted a resolution setting forth a number of reasons in support of a re-opening.
The resolution says "it is critical to ensure meaningful engagement of communities with the public schools...with the goal of every school district in Arkansas is to provide an exemplary educational experience for all students...to ensure our students are competitive in a global economic environment."
The resolution further states, "We must be committed to provide the resources necessary to provide our students with a world-class education...and make learning more rigorous, more relevant and more real...and be more dedicated to being responsive to student's individual needs."
The resolution said the citizens of the community have voiced their concerns in regards to the Saratoga school campus. The document asks that the state board of education reevaluate the changes.
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District was placed on Fiscal Distress in late 2012 by the Arkansas State Board of Education. In May of 2013, Arkansas Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell dissolved the local school board and took control of the district. With that came an order to close the Saratoga Elementary School at the end of the school year. A news release the day of the takeover from ADE said, ...the district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." The district apparently ended the fiscal with a closing balance of over $920,000.
The McNab resolution is part of a community effort to have Saratoga Elementary School reopened.
(Tuesday, September 10, 2013)
The Caddo Valley Railroad in Pike and Clark Counties continues to hang on, albeit without rail and ties. The latest twist came as a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) that was granted February 27, 2013 to the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District was about to expire on August 26, 2013. According to James E. Smith, Jr., Attorney for the Caddo Valley Railroad Company, that organization elected not to pursue negotiations for interim trail use.
However, Smith said another group interested in pursuing negotiations for interim trail use has emerged, "though they are not yet ready to seek a NITU." In the meantime, Smith says the railroad has agreed not to consummate the abandonment before February 1, 2014. He said either a request for a new NITU will be timely filed (sic) with the Surface Transportation Board before the deadline for consummating the abandonment exemption or the railroad will timely (sic) request an extension of the consummation deadline. The new group has not been identified.
(Saratoga Arkansas Digest has written extensively (and sometimes exclusively) on the troubled railroad. Scroll down near the end for a number of related stories from the past couple of years.)
(Tuesday, September 10, 2013)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District ended the 2012-13 fiscal year with a legal balance reportedly over $920,000. The district's fiscal year ended June 30. The ending balance is contrary to a statement made by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell May 16 when he dissolved the school board and assumed control of the district.
"This action was necessary to keep Mineral Springs public schools operating and serving students despite the district's extreme financial difficulties," Dr. Kimbrell said in May. " Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and staff, state action had to be taken now."
In the same press release from the Department of Education, it states, quote, "The action was taken to immediately move toward stabilizing the finances and management of the troubled district in Howard County. The district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." Unquote.
In a statement June 30, outgoing Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood told Saratoga Arkansas Digest the ending balance would be at least $400,000 and possibly more. Blackwood was named Interim Superintendent November 1, 2012, replacing Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham. The district was placed on Fiscal Distress in December 2012. Blackwood initiated a number of personnel moves and cost-cutting measures to stabilize the financial situation.
In taking over the district May 16, Dr Kimbrell said Blackwood would stay on until he (Kimbrell) appointed a new superintendent. That occurred the next day, May 17, when Kimbrell appointed Curtis Turner, Jr. as superintendent. Turner tendered his resignation the night before, May 16, as superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District. Turner is a native of Murfreesboro. He assumed his role at Mineral Springs July 1.
Blackwood told Saratoga Arkansas Digest Saturday night he felt comfortable the district would be in good financial shape when the final numbers came in. He declined further comment at this time.
When the Arkansas Department of Education assumed control, it ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School for this year. There are reportedly efforts underway to have the school reopened.
(Sunday, August 25, 2013)
The outgoing interim superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District is estimating the school district ended its fiscal year Sunday night (June 30) with "at least a $400,000 balance." Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood said the final actual figure should be available in a few days, but he feels comfortable with the +$400,000 number.
The ending balance is in contrast with the stated reason by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell for taking over the school district. In a news release from May 16, 2013, it states, quote, "The action was taken to immediately move toward stabilizing the finances and management of the troubled district in Howard County. The district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year (June 30)." Unquote.
The Arkansas State Board of Education placed the district on Fiscal Distress in December 2012 because of declining financial balances. Blackwood had been named interim superintendent November 1, 2012.
"This action was necessary to keep Mineral Springs public schools operating and serving students despite the district's extreme financial difficulties," Dr. Kimbrell said in May. "Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and the staff, state action had to be taken now." Unquote.
That action included the dissolving of the local school board and the ordering of the closing of Saratoga Elementary School. The next day, May 17, Kimbrell announced that Curtis Turner had been appointed MSSD Superintendent. Turner, a Murfreesboro native, resigned as Eureka Springs Superintendent the night before, and assumed the position July 1.
Blackwood said the amount saved from personnel who resigned and salary adjustments will amount to at least $850,000. He said it's possible the district could have a balance of $1,250,000 at the end of next fiscal year and possibly as much as $3,350,000 in two years. He emphasized these numbers are estimates of where he thinks the district will be. In a letter to former school board members, Blackwood said he enjoyed his tenure, and is convinced Mineral Springs Saratoga will again be a strong school district.
(Sunday, June 30, 2013)
The superintendent of the Cossatot River School District in western Arkansas has been verbally offered the same position at the Eureka Springs School District. According to the Lovely County Citizen Newspaper, David Kellogg was named to the position, with the board scheduled to review conditions of the contract before a final vote June 26. Kellogg was one of four finalists for the vacancy at Eureka Springs after Curtis Turner, Jr. was appointed superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell. ADE assumed control of Mineral Springs Saratoga School District on May 17 and dissolved the local school board before naming Turner superintendent the next day. Turner, a Murfreesboro native, had earlier interviewed for the MSSD position. He will take over from interim superintendent Bill Blackwood July 1.
Cossatot River School District is the name of the recently consolidated Van-Cove and Wickes School Districts. Kellogg had been there for two years. According to the Lovely County Citizen, Hartford Superintendent Teresa Ragsdale had also applied. She had earlier applied at Mineral Springs Saratoga, with previous stints at Yerger Middle School in Hope, Prescott, Nevada and Stamps School Districts, Southern Arkansas University and Arkansas Department of Education.
(Saturday, June 22, 2013)
Newly announced Mineral Springs Saratoga School District Superintendent Curtis Turner, Jr. was appointed to the position hours after resigning as superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District. Turner was appointed superintendent by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the ADE dissolved the local school board and assumed control of the district.
Kimbrell notified MSSD Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood Thursday morning, May 16 of the takeover, which included the closing of Saratoga Elementary School. That night, Turner resigned as Eureka Springs Superintendent at that district's board meeting. Friday, May 17, the Arkansas Department of Education issued a news release announcing Turner's appointment, effective July 1, 2013.
Turner had been interviewed in April by the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board for the superintendent's position. Because the district was placed in fiscal distress in December 2012, any hiring would have to be approved by the ADE. After the round of interviews, the board never publicly announced who they wished to employee.
According to the Carroll County News, Turner was named Eureka Springs interim superintendent in the middle of the 2011-12 school year, and retained for the 2012-13 school year after the board hired an executive search firm to seek candidates for the vacancy.
Curtis Turner is former superintendent at Delight, Center Point, Murfreesboro and Clinton. He's quoted by the Carroll County News as saying, "...his personal circumstances had changed over the last few days and he made his decision suddenly."
(Monday, May 27, 2013)
Mineral Springs Saratoga School District Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood and Elementary Principal Chuck Hanson have sent letters to parents of students currently attending Saratoga Elementary School discussing the takeover of the district by the Arkansas Department of Education. In the takeover action, the ADE ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School at the end of this school year. In the letter, the administrators said, "We did not anticipate this happening."
The letter said the district wants to make the transition as easy as possible, with buses running as they always have, "with the exception being they will end up at Mineral Springs Elementary." The administrators said, "We realize this will be a real adjustment for everyone. We hope that you will continue to work with us and help provide the quality of education you want for your children."
(Monday, May 27, 2013)
Murfreesboro native Curtis Turner, superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District, has been appointed by Department of Education Commission Dr. Tom Kimbrell as superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District. The action was announced Friday, May 17. The ADE had assumed control of the district (scroll down for that article↓) Thursday, May 16, and dissolved the district's school board of directors.
Turner was interviewed March 25 by the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board for the superintendent's position. The MSSD board had also interviewed several other candidates, but could not make a hire due to being in fiscal distress, which requires ADE approval before anyone is employed.
Turner has served as superintendent at South Pike County School District, Delight School District, Clinton School District and Centerpoint School District.
Turner has a master of education degree from Henderson State University and received a state superintendent certification from the University of Central Arkansas.
Commission of Education Kimbrell said, "Mr. Turner has experience in assisting fiscally distressed school districts develop and work through recovery and improvement plans. I believe he's the right person to look at the big picture and know what the priorities are."
Turner said his goals are to foster clearer communication, listening, learning from the past and moving on together. "We have to set a new strategic direction in Mineral Springs to put the district on sound financial footing and have schools that are student centered and focused on academic achievement."
Turner will replace Bill Blackwood who came out of retirement to temporarily lead the district. Kimbrell expressed appreciation for Blackwood's leadership in managing the district during the transition. Turner will assume the position July 1, 2013.
(Friday, May 17, 2013)
The Arkansas Department of Education has dissolved the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board and taken over the school district. Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell took the action Thursday, May 16. Kimbrell's action reportedly includes the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School.
The Department of Education said it took the action to stabilize the finances and management, saying the district is facing a severe budget deficit and "does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year."
"This action was necessary to keep Mineral Springs public schools operating and serving students despite the district's extreme financial difficulties," Dr. Kimbrell said. "Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and staff, state action had to be taken now."
Dr. Kimbrell and other ADE staff arrived in Mineral Springs Thursday morning to inform interim superintendent Bill Blackwood of the changes in district governance. Blackwood has agreed to stay until Kimbrell appoints a new superintendent.
The ADE said steps have been taken to secure school records and to ensure district operations continue uninterrupted.
The State Board placed the district in fiscal distress in December, 2012. Under the Omnibus Quality Education Act of 2003, the education commissioner has authority to exercise a state takeover of districts in fiscal distress that "don't adequately address their problems."
(Thursday, May 17, 2013)
Accepting 11 resignations was the only item of business at the May meeting Monday night (5/13/13) of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board. Following a 50 minute executive session, the board voted to accept the following resignations; Pam Wendell-Title I Parent Coordinator...music teacher Bill Hathcote...science teacher and coach Andrew Schroeder...Saratoga secretary Denise Juniel...science teacher Emma Loop...math teacher Beverly Tallman...high school principal Davy Jones...school improvement specialist Crystal Evans...elementary teacher Tabitha Jones...high school English teacher Angela Barfield and middle school English teacher Kim Dunham.
(Monday, May 13, 2013)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a special called meeting Wednesday, April 24 to amend their 2012-13 budget. The adjustment was at the request of the Fiscal Distress Unit of the Arkansas Department of Education. The board also granted authority to allow the Fiscal Distress Unit to make additional adjustments as necessary.
The 2011-12 district audit was acknowledged. A complete copy can be found at www.arklegaudit.gov and scrolling to "Mineral Springs School District."
The board met in executive session for nearly 90 minutes, but adjourned after returning to open session.
(Wednesday, April 24, 2013)
Four Saratoga School staff members were presented commemorative blankets before the April meeting of the Mineral Springs Saratoga Board for their work through the years at Saratoga basketball games and tournaments.
(Left to right)Dale Gathright, Jr. (Class of 1979) clock keeper and public address announcer... Christine Green (Class of 1979) official scorer as well as coaching both girls and boys basketball teams and organizing hospitality for the Southwest Arkansas Invitational Tournament and state tournaments...Inez Gentry, (Class of 1980) official scorer, and Kenneth Green, who coached girls and sometimes the boys teams, clock keeper, and does much of the behind the scenes planning and work for the Southwest Arkansas Invitational Tournament. He began his teaching career in 1978 at Saratoga High School.
Gathright credits the four's involvement to the late High School Principal James A. Stewart. "When the M.H. Peebles Auditorium opened in 1982, he recruited us and a few others to run the clock and be the scorer and set the example of running the tournaments and being hospitable. The scorer's table is the best seat in the house, and after 31 years, I still love it," Gathright said.
(Wednesday, April 10, 2013) Photo courtesy Terrica Hendrix-Nashville News Editor
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a special called meeting Tuesday, April 9 to interview a candidate for the position of superintendent. The board met in executive session with Lendell Martin, who is retiring as superintendent of the Battiest, Oklhoma School District. No action was taken.
(Tuesday, April 9, 2013) pronouncer: Battiest- Buh-Tee-st
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met Monday, April 8 for its regular monthly meeting. The main discussion at the meeting was the refinancing of several bond issues. Jason Holsclaw of Stephens, Inc. told the board by refinancing now at better interest rates, the district could realize over a quarter of a million dollars in savings. The board approved three resolutions regarding the refinancing.
The 2013-14 School Calendar was approved by the board. The first day of school will be August 19. The board gave approval for two trips. Band students will go to Grambling University April 17, and Gifted and Talented students in grades 3-8 will be going to the Mid-America Museum in Hot Springs in May.
The board approved the 2013-14 Salary Schedule. The schedule was retroactive to January 1, 2013 for five staff members whose duties were changed in January.
(Tuesday, April 9, 2013)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a called meeting Friday evening, April 5. The board immediately went into executive session to discuss personnel. No action was taken. There were no candidates interviewed for the superintendent's position.
(Tuesday, April 9, 2013)
Don Airsman, Jr. was convicted Thursday (3/28/13) of First Degree Murder in the death of his step-father Bill Jones. Airsman was sentenced to life in prison. The verdict came down late Thursday in Hempstead County Circuit Court. Airsman, 31, was also convicted for using a firearm in the crime. That 15 year sentence will be served consecutively with the life sentence.
Bowie County authorities on April 27, 2012 asked Hempstead County to go to Saratoga resident after they found a car burning in their county. At that time, a body had not been located in the car. A deputy could not find any one at the residence that night. Hempstead County deputies were sent back to the residence the next morning after family members of Jones reported they had had no contact since the previous afternoon. While meeting with the family, Deputy Justin Crane said he noticed "what appeared to be blood on the front porch and blood clotted on the driveway". The residence and property were declared a crime scene and sheriff's deputies, along with the Arkansas State Polic,e began an investigation. Bowie County deputies were asked to take another look at the burned car and a body was discovered.
Airsman was taken into custody in Kennett, Missouri. A so-far unnamed "third party" was ALLEGEDLY present in Saratoga on April 27 when the shooting reportedly occurred, was allegedly present when the car was burned, allegedly brought Airsman back to Saratoga after the fire and allegedly followed Airsman to Missouri.
Airsman was reportedly living at the Saratoga residence, while Jones was staying elsewhere.
After waiving extradition April 30, Airsman was taken to the Hempstead County Detention Facility, where bond was set at one million dollars.
(Scroll down for 2012 stories that contain a timeline and more details...)
(Friday, March 29, 2013) (Verdict info. provided by Mark Keith)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in another called board meeting Tuesday night. The board interviewed three candidates for the superintendent's position. Two other interviews were conducted Monday night (see story below).
Interviewed Tuesday night was Teresa Ragsdale, currently superintendent at Hardford School District. Her career includes stints at Prescott Schools, Nevada Schools, Stamps Schools, Arkansas Department of Education, Southern Arkansas University and Yerger Middle School in Hope.
The second interview was Holly Cothren, currently High School Principal in Dierks. She has also worked in Murfreesboro and Little Rock.
The third candidate interviewed was Charles Hanson. Hanson, who lives in Hope, started the year as Saratoga Building Principal, and was later named as Elementary Principal for both the Saratoga and Mineral Springs campuses. He has also worked at Cossatot River Schools, Weiner Schools, Armorel Schools, Western Yell County Schools, Gosnell Schools, Crawfordsville Schools and several private schools.
There was no action taken at the meeting.
(Tuesday, March 26, 2013)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met Monday evening in a called meeting. Two applicants for the superintendent's position were interviewed. After the meeting was called to order, the board went into executive session, first with Curtis Turner, Jr. Turner, a Murfreesboro native, is currently superintendent at the Eureka Springs School District. In past years, Turner has been superintendent at Delight, Murfreesboro and Glenwood/Centerpoint School Districts. The second person, Tim Erwin, is a graduate of Mineral Springs High School and previously worked in the district. He is currently Assistant High School Principal and Athletic Director at Ashdown High School.
Following the executive session, the board adjourned. A second called meeting is set for 4:00 p.m. Tuesday (March 26).
(Monday, March 25, 2013)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a special called meeting Thursday afternoon (March 14, 2013) to adopt a budget for the current school year. The board voted to resubmit a revised budget after the previous budget was rejected by the Arkansas Department of Education. That budget showed the district ending in the red by $131,000. The new budget shows a net gain of $173,000, with the district projected to end with a balance of $46,663. The budget was the only item of business considered.
(Thursday, March 14, 2013)
Doyle Green was appointed to the vacancy in Zone 1 of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District at the board's March meeting Monday night (March 11, 2013). He replaces Henry Brown, who resigned last month citing health reasons. Green lives near Saratoga, is a graduate and former teacher at Saratoga High School, and currently teaches at Nashville High School.
The routine rehiring of school principals at the February meeting got the attention of Fiscal Distress section head Hazel Burnett. Burnett told Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood that all hiring goes through her office as long as the district is on Fiscal Distress. The board discussed the matter because the minutes showed the action. Board Secretary Dale Gathright, Jr. said the minutes "were a record of what took place, and we did approve doing it." The board approved adopting the minutes and followed up by adopting a statement agreeing to abide by Burnett's request.
In other business, the resignation of cafeteria worker Sarah Williams was accepted, the district's ACSIP (Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan) plan and Statement of Assurance was approved, use of the Saratoga Gym for a summer league high school girls practice and for a church tournament were approved and a plan to adjust the payroll dates for the remainder of the school year was approved.
Saratoga Elementary School Improvement Specialist Sandra Rhone presented the board with information on targeted plans for students. She said the goal is to close the achievement gap between the high performers and low performers. Rhone said at least five learning centers have been established in each class room.
(Monday, March 11, 2013)
The Surface Transportation Board has reopened proceedings involving the Caddo Valley Railroad to allow the defunct railroad and the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District to negotiate an agreement for converting the railroad right-of-way into a recreational trail and rail banking the corridor for possible future reactivation. The line extends from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood in Pike and Clark Counties.
On February 8, 2013, the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District "late filed" a request for the issuance of a notice of interim trail use or abandonment to allow for negotiation with railroad for acquisition of the right-of-way for use as a trail under the National Trail Systems Act. Included in that notice was a letter dated two days earlier indicating the railroad had not yet consummated the abandonment of any part of the line and was willing to negotiate with the District for interim trail use/rail banking.
On February 12, 2013, Betty Pennington, a landowner along the right-of-way, filed a comment in opposition, seeking to assert her reversionary rights to the land under the right-of-way, opposing the trail request and alleging the District is not a government entity that qualifies for a fee waiver.
On February 27, 2013, the Surface Transportation Board granted 180 days for the parties to negotiate a possible conversion of the right-of-way, or until August 26, 2013. If an agreement is reached, one of the stipulations is the right-of-way is subject to possible future reconstruction and reactivation for rail service.
(Monday, March 4, 2013)
There's been some movement lately in the long running saga involving the Caddo Valley Railroad and its unused line in Pike, Clark and Montgomery Counties. It's the only rail line left in Pike County, running from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood.
The Surface Transportation Board has extended the time to exercise abandonment authority and file a notice of consummation until Thursday, February 28. On February 8, 2013, the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District (WCAPDD) late filed a request with the STB for the issuance of a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) to allow it to negotiate with Caddo Valley Railroad for the acquisition of its right-of-way for use as a trail under the National Trails System Act. In its filing, the Development District included a letter from the railroad, dated February 6, 2013, that indicated the consummation of the abandonment had not started and it was willing to negotiate for interim trail use/rail banking with the Development District.
On February 12, 2013, Betty Pennington, a land owner along the right-of-way, filed a protest in opposition, seeking to assert her reversionary rights to the land underlying the right-of-way and opposing the trails filing. She alleges that West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District misrepresented itself as a "state entity."
The Surface Transportation Board granted the time extension to consider West Central's request and Pennington's protest.
SARATOGA ARKANSAS DIGEST (http://www.saratogaarkdigest.webs.com/) has several exclusive stories tracking the saga for several years. They can be found by scrolling down its news page.
(Monday, February 25, 2013)
It was a split vote at the February meeting of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board regarding paying former Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham for the time she spent in the position. Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood asked the board for permission to pay Gorham for the time she served as acting superintendent as well as Mineral Springs Elementary Principal. A motion to pay the amount by board member William Dixon passed 4-2, with Dixon, Mike Erwin, Linda Ross and JoAnn Walker voting yes, and Dornell Trotter and Dale Gathright, Jr. voting no.
In other personnel matters, board member Henry Brown submitted his resignation, citing health reasons. The board will appoint a replacement until September. Chuck Hanson was reemployed as elementary principal for Mineral Springs and Saratoga Elementary Schools, Davey Jones was reemployed as Mineral Springs High School Principal for 2013-14, Jeanie Gorham was employed as Federal Coordinator/School Improvement for 2013-14, Frankie Darr was reemployed as District Treasurer and Marla Williams was reemployed as District Bookkeeper. The board approved payment for two staff members for college courses in their teaching areas.
A resolution adopted by the board to refund outstanding bonds in order to produce debt service savings should result in the district saving approximately $283,000. The board approved School Board/Employee Legal Liability Insurance through the Arkansas School Boards Association.
Interim Superintendent Blackwood said he had been contacted by Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton about considering the placing of a deputy on the Saratoga Schools campus next school year. The district's cost would be about $25,500.
(Monday, February 11, 2013)
There's been another administrative change in the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District. At the January board meeting Tuesday night (1/22/13) Mineral Springs Elementary Principal Jeanie Gorham was designated Federal Programs Coordinator. Her principal duties will be assumed by current Saratoga Elementary Principal Charles Hanson, who will oversee both elementary programs for the remainder of the current school year. This and several other personnel moves were made following a near hour-long executive session. In the other personnel moves, the board accepted the resignation of Business Manager Sammy Jackson and Lemerl (sic) Crosslin. Jackson is retiring after 46 years with the district and Crosslin has taken a technology position with the Hope School District. Frankie Darr was named Business Manager and Marla Williams was named District Bookkeeper. Liz Ann Bell was made a full time employee in the technology department.
In other business, the board approved a Fixed Assets-Purged Items list for 2011-12, and voted to place a trip bus up for sale. Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood said a fiscal distress workshop for board members is being planned. He said a company named Vista Health is now offering counseling services for all the district's campuses.
Before the meeting, retiring Business Manager Sammy Jackson was presented a plaque by the board honoring his 46 years with the district. A retirement reception for Jackson has been set for Thursday afternoon at 3:30 in the Mineral Springs Cafetorium.
(Tuesday, January 22, 2013)
Sammie Cox, 65, formerly of Dierks, died January 5 in Dallas, Texas. Cox worked for SWEPCO for 41 years, from 1968 until his retirement in 2010. He was a consultant for SWEPCO in 2011-2012.
Cox was well known in Southwest Arkansas and worked many years out of the company's Nashville office. He was also helpful in an industrial recruitment effort for the Okay-Saratoga area in the early 1990s. Following the closing of the Okay Cement Plant in 1992, an informal committee called the South Howard Industrial Group was formed by individuals connected with Saratoga Schools, including the late James A. Stewart, Lewis Diggs, who was school superintendent at the time and school board member Dale Gathright, Jr. With guidance from Sammie Cox and others, an effort was made to recruit International Paper Company to build an oriented-strand board (OSB) plant on property on the Okay Road north of Saratoga. Though the site made the final cut, Jefferson, Texas was ultimately chosen.Gathright said the effort was made because of the hit the school district would take in losing a large chunk of its tax base, as well as what the community would lose in jobs. "Sammie Cox offered us ideas on getting ourselves noticed by International Paper, and much of these efforts involved Saratoga School students in letter-writing campaigns and a chalk art message on the concrete Okay road for an aerial photograph inviting IP to build on the site," Gathright said.
A memorial service is set for 2:00 p.m. Saturday, January 12 at the Dierks church of Christ. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to UACCH Foundation, Sammie Cox Memorial Scholarship, P.O. Box 140, Hope, Arkansas 71802.
(Wednesday, January 9, 2013)
Southwestern Electric Power Company began commercial operation Thursday, December 20, of the new 600-megawatt John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant near McNab. Turk was declared commercially available at 12:08 p.m. CST. Commercial operation is when control of unit loading is turned over to the system dispatcher. This essentially indicates that Turk is available for dispatch to serve the customer load.
Turk, the first ultra-supercritical generating unit to go into operation in the U.S., generates electricity more efficiently at higher temperatures, which the company says requires less coal and produces fewer emissions to generate the same amount of power as existing coal units.
"This is a milestone addition of very efficient generation during SWEPCO's 100th anniversary to help meet the growing energy needs of all SWEPCO customers, and we heartily thank our many supporters of the project these last six years," said Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer. "We are so proud of the Turk Plant because it demonstrates our commitment and ability to meet stringent environmental standards set by federal and state regulatory agencies."
Construction of the Turk Plant began in November 2008, and the project provided up to 2,200 construction jobs at the peak of employment in May 2011. The plant will have 109 permanent positions and an estimated annual payroll of $9 million. Turk will provide an additional $6 million in annual school and county property tax revenues in Southwest Arkansas. The plant will serve SWEPCO retail and wholesale customers in Louisiana and Texas, as well as East Texas Electric Cooperative customers. In Arkansas the plant will supply SWEPCO's wholesale customers-the cities of Hope, Prescott and Bentonville, and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation. Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority will also be a customer.
The Turk Plant is located on about 3,000 acres between McNab and Fulton. Tim Gross is the plant manager. Fuel for the plant is low-sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.
The new facility is named for John W. Turk, Jr., who was president and chief executive officer of SWEPCO from 1983-1988. A Texas native, Turk worked for SWEPCO for 39 years. He passed away in 2009.
(Thursday, December 20, 2012)
In a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon (December 18, 2012), the Mineral Springs Saratoga Board adopted a Fiscal Distress Financial Improvement Plan for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. This comes after the Arkansas State Board of Education placed the district on Fiscal Distress December 10 due to "declining fund balances." Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood said the district's finances should be stabilized without having to have any layoffs.
There were five improvement plan objectives Blackwood discussed with the board;
(1). Reduction in personnel for the current school year by not filling vacancies with a projected net savings of $144,407.
(2). Changing funding sources where allowable from the district's general operating fund to federal sources for the current school year, with a projected savings of $109,081.
(3). Reducing extended contract days for 2013-14, with projected savings of $49,002.
(4). Removing Superintendent Max Adcock's salary when his contract expires June 30, 2013, a projected savings of $100,028.
(5). Aline salaries with salary schedules, a projected savings of $52,979.
This would make a total net savings of $455,497. Blackwood said the district will continue to look for savings in other areas. Fiscal Distress does not mean a school district is broke, but that its fund balances are showing declines that could impact future operation of a district.
(Tuesday, December 18, 2012)
December 18, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the closing of the Okay Cement Plant near Saratoga in southern Howard County. At the time of its closing, it was operated by a Swiss company named Holnam, which is now known as Holcim.
(Photo by Eric Nicholson. All that is left at the plant site is this safety monument and a SWEPCO sub-station. The offices were behind the monument.)
The plant, operated for most of its life by the Ideal Cement Company, started production in 1929, with an expansion in 1957. In 1990, Ideal Basic Industries was merged into Holnam. Reportedly at the end of the day shift December 18, 1992, workers in the quarry where the limestone was mined were told "that's it." The remaining materials were processed, inventory was shipped out and the plant was dismantled.
In a news release dated March 6, 1992, Holnam said "two key factors drove the direction of the final decision. The first is the over capacity of cement in the Okay market region. The second is an effort to reduce costs within the company." At the time of the announcement, about 80 people were still employed there.
A company town, Okay, was constructed along with the cement plant. Referred to as a village, it contained houses and its own post office. Nearby was a store and a church house, and the elementary school. The school closed in 1965 and the houses were sold and moved out.
Ideal owned the Louisiana-Nevada Transit Company, a natural gas supplier with its office in Hope,and the Graysonia, Nashville and Ashdown Railroad, based in Nashville. A trucking company, Southern Cement Transport, was located on site. Ideal also had an interest in a gravel operation, Braswell, located near Wilton.
The gas system was sold to Arkla, which became part of Centerpoint Energy and the railroad was Sold to Kansas City Southern, which now leases the line to the Arkansas Southern.
When the plant closed, Holnam opened a cement terminal in Hope, where product is brought in by rail and loaded into customers trucks. Now Holcim, the company still owns the property.
(Tuesday, December 11, 2012)
The Arkansas State Board of Education has placed the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District on its Fiscal Distress list. That action was taken Monday, December 10 at the board's December meeting. The district's declining funds balance led to the decision.
MSSD was notified in October by the Arkansas Department of Education's Fiscal Distress and Accountability Unit of their recommendation of fiscal distress to the state board. "A declining balance determined to jeopardize the fiscal integrity of the school district. The Department has discovered that this fiscal condition negatively impacts the continuation of educational services by the school district." Unquote.
Fiscal Distress regulations states "that no school district (in fiscal distress) may incur any debt without prior written approval from the department. "Any debt" includes any employment contract, vendor contract, lease, loan, purchase, or any other obligation that will increase the district's financial obligations, accounts payable, or its liabilities."
(Monday, December 10, 2012)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board accepted the resignation of Band Director James Spurlin at its December meeting Monday night (12/10/12). The resignation is effective immediately. In other business, the board named Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood as Ex Officio Financial Officer, shortened a suspension for a patron to the end of the school year, purchased a Renaissance Learning testing program to track students and their knowledge level in certain areas and voted not to accept a Contract Disclosure Resolution for board member Dale Gathright, Jr. and his employer Harmar Bottling. The company has supplied soft drinks and water in years past to the district, mainly to the Saratoga Gymnasium concession stand. Voting no were board members Mike Erwin, Linda Ross and William Dixon. Voting yes was JoAnn Walker. Absent was Henry Brown and Dornell Trotter. Gathright abstained.
(Monday, December 10, 2012)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board accepted four resignations at their November meeting Monday night (11/12/12). This listed included Saratoga Elementary teachers Dorthy Davis and Megan Sullivan, nurse Stephanie Monden and bookkeeper Donna Ellen.
The board heard from parents Larry and Linda Trotter concerning issues with their child and staff regarding a suspension. They asked the suspension be removed from their child's record and he be allowed to make up the week's schoolwork. The board also heard from Mrs. John Lindsey regarding her husband being banned for a year following an incident at a football game with the band instructor. She asked the board to consider reducing the ban to allow him to be a part of his child's senior year activities. Board President Mike Erwin said the board would take both issues under advisement.
The board voted to grant a board-to-board transfer for an elementary student, tabled action on updates to the board policy handbook and discussed required board training hours.
The meeting was the first for Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood.
(Monday, November 12, 2012)
The U.S. Postal Service has released an updated list of new hours for the Saratoga Post Office. Effective November 17, the weekday hours of service will be from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Following a recent public meeting in Saratoga, it was announced the window hours would be from 8:00 a.m. to noon, with Saturday hours as 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In a posting to Saratoga customers inside the post office, Tanya Boyles, POSTPLAN Coordinator, did not say why the new hours were changed.
(Sunday, November 4, 2012)
Bill Blackwood has been named interim superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District. That action was taken in a special called board meeting Thursday night, November 1. Effective immediately, Blackwood replaces acting superintendent Jeanie Gorham, who will return to her duties as Mineral Springs Elementary Principal. Gorham was named acting superintendent in May following the suspension of Superintendent Max Adcock. He was suspended on a 4-3 vote, with Gorham named acting superintendent, also on a 4-3 vote. In recent weeks, Saratoga High School was forced to close and the Arkansas Department of Education is recommending the district for its Fiscal Distress designation.
Following an hour-long executive session, Blackwood was hired for the remainder of the school year on a 7-0 vote. He will be on-campus November 5.
The 75-year-old Blackwood retired this past June after 55-years with the De Queen School District, including the last 30 as superintendent. He said at the meeting he likes a challenge and thinks he can help turn the district around.
(Thursday, November 1, 2012)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District will be recommended for the Fiscal Distress designation by the Arkansas Department of Education. The Education Department's Fiscal Distress and Accountability Unit, in a letter to school officials, department officials and State Senator Larry Teague and State Representative Nate Steel, said MSSD meets one or more of the criteria necessary to be identified in fiscal distress.
The letter said, "A declining balance determined to jeopardize the fiscal integrity of the school district. The Department has discovered that this fiscal condition negatively impacts the continuation of educational services by the school district."
The ADE will request the designation at the December 10 meeting of the Arkansas State Board of Education.
Fiscal Distress regulations states "that no school district (in fiscal distress) may incur any debt without prior written approval from the department. "Any debt" includes any employment contract, vendor contract, lease, loan, purchase, or any other obligation that will increase the district's financial obligations, accounts payable, or its liabilities.
(Wednesday, October 24, 2012)
The U.S. Postal Service has announced the new hours for the Saratoga and Ozan Post Offices. Under the POST Plan, new hours effective November 17 will have Saratoga open from 8:00 a.m. to noon and in Ozan from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Notices were posted today (Tuesday, October 16) in the respective offices. Saturday hours will remain unchanged. At recent public meetings in the towns, Postal Service representatives said the offices will be reevaluated each year for possible adjustments.
Similar public meetings are scheduled in the area, including Wednesday, October 17, at 7:00 p.m. at Mineral Springs Town Hall, and Tuesday, October 30 at 7:00 p.m. at the Columbus Fire House.
(Tuesday, October 16, 2012)
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell and Deputy Commissioner Tony Woods were in Mineral Springs Friday, October 12, for a closed-door meeting with acting Mineral Springs Saratoga Schools Superintendent Jeanie Gorham and school board President Mike Erwin. Dr. Kimbrell told Saratoga Arkansas Digest Friday afternoon several things were discussed in the meeting, including accreditation and finances. Kimbrell would not elaborate, saying they needed to return to Little Rock with information from the meeting.
Monday afternoon, October 15, Southwest Arkansas Radio in Nashville carried a news report quoting Phyllis Stewart, State Board/Commissioner's Liaison, as saying the meeting was to inform Gorham and Erwin of the Arkansas Department of Education's expectations from the district and to explore further the circumstances surrounding the closing of Saratoga High School.
The Arkansas Department of Education said in a letter to school officials they had received notice in late August that "no classes at all took place at the Saratoga High School Campus during the 2011-12 school year and that no classes were currently taking place at Saratoga High School campus during the 2012-13 school year." That letter followed an on-campus review by the Standards Assurance Unit of the Department of Education.
Acting Superintendent Gorham on September 14 told the Hope Star, quote, "She was aware there were no classes taking place at the (Saratoga) campus, but she assumed it was cleared because suspended Superintendent Max Adcock was on the Triple A (Arkansas Activities Association) board."
Superintendent Adcock has maintained some classes have been held each year since the 2004 annexation. Adcock was suspended May 17 on a 4-3 vote of the school board. Gorham was named Acting Superintendent at the same meeting, also on a 4-3 vote.
Gorham told the October board session she has a October 18 meeting in Little Rock regarding the district's finances. She told board members she has been assured by Hazel Burnett of the Fiscal Distress Unit of the Arkansas Department of Education, along with Dr. Kimbrell and Tony Woods, that the district is not in danger of being placed in "Fiscal Distress."
(Monday, October 15, 2012)
The first in a series of community meetings to inform customers of rural post offices of impending changes were held Tuesday night (10/9) in Saratoga and Ozan. The sessions were conducted with Harold Bennett, Acting Manager of Post Office Operations and Stan Sowell, Manager of Operation Support from Little Rock.
Bennett told the Saratoga meeting "though Saratoga still has a school, in many rural areas the post office is all the community has left. " He said the current plan is to try and preserve that for the rural communities.
He said Ozan and Saratoga will be evaluated each year with expanding or contracting hours based on business at the office. Saratoga will be going to four hours a day, while Ozan will be reduced to two hours a day.
The offices are scheduled to receive notice by October 16 with the changes expected to be in place by November 17.
327 surveys were mailed out in Saratoga with 91 returned. 86 percent listed a realignment of hours as their preference in lieu of discontinuing or moving service. The hours most suggested was 8:00 a.m. to noon. Saturday hours would be unchanged.
(Tuesday, October 9, 2012)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District is not in danger of being placed on the state's fiscal distress list, according to acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham. That statement was in answer to a question by board member Dale Gathright, Jr. at the October meeting of the district Monday night (10/8). The question was asked following the financial report showing a current balance of $399,332. Gorham said "she had assurances from Hazel Burnett of the Arkansas Department of Education's Fiscal Distress Unit, Commissioner Tom Kimbrell and Deputy Commission Tony Woods that the district was not in danger of being placed on the list."
The board named officers for the next year. Mike Erwin was named President and William Dixon Vice President. They were elected on 6-1 votes with Gathright voting no. Gathright was re-elected Board secretary. The board approved the expenditure of $5000 through E-rate Consulting Services for additional bandwidth to accommodate student use of I-pads. The board accepted the resignation of Scott Dunson who did public relations work for the district.
Gathright asked for an executive session of the board only, without acting Superintendent Gorham, to discuss personnel. No action was taken after the 15 minute executive session.
(Monday, October 8, 2012)
In a five minute special called meeting Tuesday night (September 25), the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board approved budgets for the 2012-13 school year. Approved were the district's operating budget, federal programs budgets and Acsip budget.
(Tuesday, September 25, 2012)
A loud explosion that rocked the Saratoga area Friday night (September 21) was a controlled detonation of a hand grenade. Hempstead County Deputies, agents from the FBI and a bomb disposal team from El Dorado met to destroy a World War II era hand grenade found by a citizen.
Deputies used a backhoe to dig a hole approximately three feet deep on land owned by Sheriff's Office Captain Frankie McJunkins in Saratoga. FBI agents placed approximately one and a half pounds of plastic explosive on the live grenade and buried it in the hole.
The explosives team detonated the plastic explosive, destroying the grenade in the process. The explosion at approximately 10:25 p.m. was heard from quite a distance around Saratoga.
Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton cautions residents on the extreme hazard of picking up unexploded ordinance. If found, 911 should be called immediately. The exact location of where the device was found has not been released.
(Monday, September 24, 2012)
In a one minute special called meeting, the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board Friday voted a second time on the closure of Saratoga High School. The vote to close was 7-0.
At the regular September meeting September 10, the vote to close was 6-1 with board member Dale Gathright, Jr. casting the no vote.
Following an on-campus review, the Standards Assurance Unit of the Arkansas Department of Education issued a report stating Saratoga High School was not offering classes on campus and had not offered classes the previous school year. In published interviews, suspended MSSD Superintendent Max Adcock said classes were offered last school year and he's in the process of gathering proof to that affect. The violation is for the current 2012-13 school year.
Gathright offered a motion at the first meeting to appeal the write-up to the state board of education. That motion failed to garner a second and died. Gathright said the no vote was easy to cast because he believes the requirements for Saratoga were being met. He said the yes vote Friday was tactical, because there are at least eight different actions the state says they could take. "One of those was requiring a school district to close down or dissolve a particular school or schools within a school district. It's my opinion that puts Saratoga Elementary in danger." Unquote.
He added, "MSSD attorney Paul Blume and Arkansas School Boards Association General Counsel Jay Bequette (Beck-it) both told me that Saratoga High School could be reopened. The battle's been moved to a different front." Unquote.
(Scroll down for additional information from the regular board meeting article.)
(Sunday, September 16, 2012)
Following a recent visit to both campuses of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District by the Standards Assurance Unit from the Arkansas Department of Education, it appears Saratoga High School may be in danger of being closed. The district's Board of Directors reviewed the report at the September meeting Monday night (9/10/12). The document concerned a "Notice of Probationary Violations of the Standards for Accreditation of Arkansas Public Schools and School Districts." The document states that on August 28th they were notified that "no classes at all took place at the Saratoga High School campus last school year and this current school year. Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham said a unanimous vote was necessary or the state board had a number of options they could exercise, including the removal of the superintendent or school board. Board member Dale Gathright, Jr.'s motion to appeal the violation failed to garner a second. Member Mike Erwin then moved " to accept the letter from the Department of Education." That motion passed 6-1, with Gathright casting the lone no vote. The matter goes before the state board October 8.
In other business, approval was given to the district's athletic budget and Frankie Darr was hired as a bookkeeper. It was announced that the annual report to the public will be September 25.
(Tuesday, September 11, 2012)
The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a short called special meeting Tuesday evening (5/22/12). The board named Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham Ex-Officio Officer for the purpose of co-signing checks. In other business during the ten minute meeting, the board employed Denzil R. "Denny" Cowling as assistant Mineral Springs football coach, employed Joni Terrell as Saratoga Kindergarten teacher and employed Sara Watson for Saratoga pre-school.
(Tuesday, May 22, 2012)
By a 4-3 vote Thursday night (5/17/12), The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board voted to "suspend Superintendent Max Adcock with pay so as to pursue a buyout of his contract." The motion by board member Mike Erwin included the naming of Mineral Springs Elementary Principal Jeanie Gorham as "acting" superintendent during the process. Voting in favor of the suspension was Erwin, board President Linda Ross, William Dixon and Joann Walker. Voting no were Vice-President Henry Brown, Secretary Dale Gathright, Jr. and Dornell Trotter. The action followed an executive session that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
Several other personnel actions were also taken. The board accepted resignations from head football coach and athletic director Vince Perrin, coach Jacob Monden, school nurse Stephanie Monden and math teacher Kristin Elam. Nick Evans was hired as head football coach and athletic director with permission to hire an additional assistant coach, and all classified staff were re-employed. Pam Wendell was employed as a Title I assistant.
In other business, the board approved the purchase of new band uniforms at a cost of $14,102, approved the salary schedules for next school year, increased the meal price to $1.25 as required by the federal government, approved an "Acceptable Use" policy for technology, approved the Facilities Consortium Contract with Aliza Jones and approved the purchase of a warmer for the Mineral Springs cafeteria.
(Thursday, May 17, 2012)
The U.S. Postal Service has announced a new strategy that could keep the smallest post offices open for business by reducing retail window hours. The latest proposal says access to the retail lobby and to PO Boxes would remain unchanged, and the town's ZIP Code and community identity would be retained. The plan would be implemented over a two-year multiphase approach and would not be completed until September 2014. The Postal Service estimates savings of a half billion dollars annually once its completely implemented.
Locally under the proposed plan retail hours would drop from being open 8 hours to 4 hours in Saratoga, Washington, Blevins, Emmet, Fulton, Garland City, Genoa, Gillham, Ogden, Rosston, Wilton, Winthrop, Antoine, New Hope, Okolona and Umpire.
Columbus hours would be reduced from 6 to 2, as would Curtis, Alleene, Ben Lomond and Willisville.
McCaskill would go from 8 hours to 2 hours as would Ozan. Cale would stay at 2 hours.
Additional community meetings will be planned on the latest proposal.
(Wednesday, May 9, 2012)
Bond has been set at $1 million for Don Airsman, Jr., who is charged with First Degree Murder in the death of his step-father Bill Jones. Airsman is currently in the Hempstead County Detention Facility in Hope.
The Hempstead County Sheriff's Office has released additional information regarding the death of a Saratoga man.
*Friday night, April 27, Deputy Michael Braddock was dispatched at 9:42 p.m. to a residence on Hempstead County Road 1600 in Saratoga at the request of the Bowie County, Texas Sheriff's Office to try and locate anyone at the residence because they were on scene in Bowie County with a 2007 Honda Fit that had been burned and was registered to William Jones of Saratoga. Deputy Braddock reported that he could not find anyone at the residence and no vehicles were present.
*On Saturday, April 28, at about 10:15 a.m. Deputy Justin Crane was dispatched to the Saratoga residence to meet with family members of Jones who they said was missing and had not been heard from since about 3:30 p.m. Friday. Deputy Crane met with family members who said they could not locate Jones. A family member said she had received a call at approximately 7:05 a.m. from Jones' girlfriend asking if "she had heard from Bill." The family member said she had not and the girlfriend began to tell her she had last spoken with him around 3:30 on April 27 when he got off work from the paper mill in Ashdown. Deputy Crane then called the girlfriend who said that "her and Bill had agreed on having pizza for dinner after Bill finished running errands, and said Bill had planned on going home (Saratoga) to check the mailbox for his new debit card, gather some bills that needed paying and stop by a duplex he owned in Texarkana to collect rent money and then meet up with her at her place." She told Crane she tried calling Jones numerous times, but made no contact and had left voice mails. She said she thought maybe Jones didn't have good cell service and didn't think anything of it until the next morning.
*Deputy Crane then spoke with the family member again and she said that her step brother, Donald Airsman lived in the house with her dad, but her dad "had not been staying there because he was (allegedly) scared of Donald." She said she had spoken with Donald earlier Saturday morning who allegedly told her that Bill had left a little before 8:00 p.m.and that he had left after Bill which was a little before 9:00 p.m. Airsman allegedly told her that he was "on his way to Missouri to visit his dad and and didn't seemed concerned that Bill was missing."
*(Graphic warning) While speaking with family members Deputy Crane said he noticed what appeared to be blood on the front porch and blood clotted all over the driveway. Crane then asked family members to step back off the property due to the fact that it could be a crime scene and immediately contacted Captain Frankie McJunkins, a sheriff's investigator. McJunkins lives in Saratoga. As information was being relayed to McJunkins, Deputy Steven Dunham secured the area with crime scene tape and began a crime scene log.
*McJunkins contact the Arkansas State Police who handled the finding and collecting of evidence. McJunkins contacted Bowie County and they went back to the burned vehicle and discovered a badly burned body inside.
*At 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, Airsman was in custody in Kennett, Missouri.
*At 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, McJunkins and three Arkansas State Police investigators helicopter to Kennett to interview Airsman.
*Investigators were able to obtain information from a "third party" who allegedly was present in Saratoga on April 27 and ALLEGEDLY was present when Airsman ALLEGEDLY shot Jones, was allegedly present when gasoline was poured in the car and set fire. The third party told investigators "he brought Airsman back to Saratoga". The third party said he followed Airsman to Kennett.
*Two semi-automatic handguns were taken into custody at a residence in Missouri.
*Attempts to interview Airsman ended when he asked for an attorney to be present.
*At about 10:00 p.m. Saturday night, a Warrant for Murder in the First Degree is signed by 8th North Circuit Judge Randall Wright, and a hold was placed on Airsman.
*Although a positive identification has not been made on the burned body, law enforcement officials say they feel certain it was Jones.
Monday, April 30, Airsman signed extradition waivers and Hempstead County deputies returned him to the County.
This later release of information clarifies and fills in the time line of previously released information that's contained, with pictures, in a previous posting...
(Tuesday, May 1, 2012) UPDATED Monday, May 7, 2012
A Warrant for Murder in the First Degree has been issued against Don Airsman, Jr., 30, who has a Texarkana, Arkansas address, in connection with the shooting death of 60-year-old William Jones of Saratoga. Saratoga Arkansas Digest has information Airsman has also been living in Saratoga. (←Jones pictured left.)
Hempstead County Sheriff's deputies began their investigation after Bowie County, Texas authorities were dispatched to a burning car Friday night, April 27 on Bowie County Farm to Market Road 2320 northeast of Texarkana. Information at the fire indicated the car belonged to Jones. At about 9:42 p.m. Friday night Hempstead County Deputy Micheal Braddock was dispatched to a house owned by Jones on Hempstead County Road 1600 in Saratoga, a dead-end lane near the Howard County line off Highway 32. Deputy Braddock discovered evidence of a disturbance at Saratoga. As investigators from Hempstead County and the Arkansas State Police processed the Saratoga house Saturday, they notified Bowie County, who then located parts of a badly burned body in the trunk of the burned-out car.
Authorities then named Airsman as a "Person of Interest" and began a search. Airsman was located in Kennett, Missouri. Hempstead County investigators and Arkansas State Police agents left Hope Municipal Airport by Arkansas State Police helicopter Saturday night for Kennett. (←Airsman)
Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton provided this narrative; "Upon arrival at the Dunklin County Sheriff's Office in Kennett, Missouri, investigators were able to gain information from a third party who was allegedly present at the William Jones residence in Saratoga on April 27 (quoting) and witnessed what involvement Don Airsman (allegedly) had in the disappearance of Jones and his two vehicles, one a 2007 Honda Fit which was found burned in Bowie County and a 2002 White Ford F-150 which Airsman was (apparently) in possession of in Kennett."
"The third party advised (authorities) that he was present when William Jones was ALLEGEDLY shot at his home in Saratoga and put in the trunk of the Honda. The third party also told investigators that he was also present when Airsman allegedly poured gasoline in the car and set fire to it. The third party advised investigators that he allegedly brought Airsman back to the Saratoga residence and the Ford pickup. The third party stated he followed Airsman all the way and didn't lose sight of Airsman until Airsman was taken into custody by the Missouri authorities."
Authorities say they recovered two semi-automatic handguns from a residence near Kennett and took them into custody.
Sheriff Singleton said investigators attempted to interview Airsman, however Airsman would not speak to them until he had an attorney present. Singleton said the investigators ended the interview at that point.
While investigators were in Missouri, deputies and Prosecuting Attorney Kristi McQueen were able to obtain a probable cause affidavit, and 8th North Circuit Judge Randall Wright signed the Murder Warrant, which was then faxed to Dunklin County, and a hold for Murder in the First Degree was placed on Airsman for extradition back to Hempstead County.
Sheriff Singleton said although a positive identity has not been made of the body found in Bowie County, investigators feel certain that it's William Jones..."due to evidence gathered at the scene in Saratoga and Kennett and the third party statements." The investigation is continuing by Hempstead County Sheriff's Office, Arkansas state Police and Bowie County, Texas Sheriff's Office.
(Sunday, April 29, 2012)
Student enrollment is up in the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District, according to Superintendent Max Adcock. He says that reverses a trend in rural Arkansas of declining enrollment in small schools. Superintendent Adcock said he has tracked declining enrollment back at least 14 years, but recently the student count topped 500 students, which is up approximately 18 students over last year, depending on what day is checked.
Superintendent Adcock says he attributes the increase to several factors; major building programs on both campuses, technology and industrial growth in and near the district.
(Wednesday, April 11, 2012)
As the day approaches for closing of Post Offices in Ozan and Ogden, the remanding of the closing of the Saratoga Post Office so far is one of only a handful nationwide. In a lengthy article at www.savethepostoffice.com entitled "Appeals in vain: The long odds on success at the PRC," the group says of nearly 225 cases considered from January 1, 2011-to-April 6, 2012, the Postal Regulatory Commission affirmed 167 while remanding 13 back to the U.S. Postal Service for additional study. (The remaining were dismissed, withdrawn or are pending.) That's a 93 percent ratio affirming closings.
The article said the 11 remand decisions don't stand out as particularly unique with "many cases remanded for reasons that could just as equally be applied to cases that resulted in affirm decisions." The article cited the Saratoga Post Office and the Evansdale, Iowa Post Office as examples where decisions to remand were made because of the way the Postal Service calculated economic savings. In Evansdale, the Postal Service said it would save the cost of employee salaries, yet it also said that the employees were being transferred and said it would save the rent costs, but the lease runs until January 2016.The article said similar issues were raised in Sherwood, Michigan and Daisy, Georgia, but those decisions were affirmed.
The article said the decision to close the Saratoga Post Office was also remanded partly because of the same lease issue. The Saratoga lease runs until December 31, 2015, at an annual cost of $6,650, but the savings for rent was calculated as an immediate savings. The other remanded issue for Saratoga was customers being told they could transfer their post office boxes to the post office in Columbus. The appeal of the Saratoga closing expressed concern there wasn't enough boxes in Columbus. The PRC said the Postal Service did not consider the cost of moving boxes in the economic analysis.
(Tuesday, April 10, 2012)
All certified staff in the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District were rehired at the April board meeting Monday night (4/9/12). This includes staff at Saratoga and Mineral Springs. The action followed a 30 minute executive session. The board also approved a part-time cafeteria person for the remainder of the year at Mineral Springs. That person will be used on a high school salad line to see if there's enough interest in the salad offering to make it permanent.
In other business, the district renewed its "Errors and Omissions" policy, and approved the paperwork for a revolving loan for two used school buses. The 2012-13 school calendar was adopted and EFS GeoTechnologies was approved to look at whether the school district will need to be re-zoned based on the latest census.
High school teacher Judy Cassady spoke to the board about Destination ImagiNation. The district's team, with students from both high schools, placed second in state competition and hope to compete with schools from the nation and world in Knoxville, Tennessee. The board approved two thousand dollars with students doing fundraisers to raise the rest of the expected five thousand plus dollars needed.
Superintendent Max Adcock reported on the Mineral Springs power-lifting team winning the 2A State Championship and placing fourth on overall state. Adcock said the team "went to win" the event. Colton Ortiz and Rashad Williams both set state records in their weight division. Fundraising for state championship rings will begin soon, according to the Superintendent.
(Monday, April 9, 2012)
Service at the Ozan and Ogden Post Offices could end with the close-of-business Friday, May 18. Saratoga Arkansas Digest has learned that offices slated for closing in Arkansas have received correspondence saying the shutdown could begin May 19, which apparently is the start of a new pay-period in the Postal Service.
In December 2011, the Postal Service agreed to impose a moratorium on closing offices and processing facilities until May 15. With the correspondence to the offices dated March 19, the 60-day notice of closing is apparently triggered.
In February of this year, the Postal Regulatory Commission affirmed the Ozan and Ogden closings. The Saratoga Post Office closing was remanded back for additional consideration.
(Photo attribution: Eric Nicholson-Texarkana Gazette/Write for Arkansas. Pictured is Frank McJunkins of Saratoga at the Saratoga Post Office.)
(Tuesday, March 20, 2012)
There's been another twist in a story that Saratoga Arkansas Digest has been following from the beginning...(For a complete picture, scroll down to see a number of previous articles.)
The Surface Transportation Board has reopened the abandonment proceedings involving the Caddo Valley Railroad to impose two environmental conditions. In a letter dated November 2, 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Ecological Services Office (USFWS) indicates that eight Federally listed threatened and endangered species are within close range of the proposed abandonment. They include: the Ouachita rock-pocketbook, the Pink mucket, the Red cockaded woodpecker, the winged mapleleaf, the Florida panther, the scaleshell, the Arkansas fatmucket, and the piping plover. USFWS states that any sediment generated during the railroad's salvage process could have direct effects on these species and/or their habitat. The agency is recommending Caddo Valley consult with the STB's Office of Environmental Analysis and USFWS to develop appropriate mitigation measures, if necessary; and refrain from filing its consummation notice or initiating any salvage activities related to abandonment, including the removal of tracks and ties, until the consultation process is complete and the STB has removed this condition.
In a letter dated November 14, 2011, from the State Clearinghouse, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission's Technical Review Committee (NRC) says its supports the proposed abandonment if (1) best management practices are used during salvage operations to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any impacts to streams and wetlands, including any demolition or repair work that may be needed at associated crossings, and (2) the necessary permits be obtained for such work. To address the concerns, the OEA is recommending a new condition requiring Caddo Valley contact NRC prior to commencement of any salvage activities on this project concerning removal and salvage methods and any work within the designated floodway, including possible impacts on wetlands, streams and stream banks.
On November 28, 2011, Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority filed a formal expression of intent to to file an offer of financial assistance. The STB on December 13 extended the deadline until February 24, 2012. The effective date of the exemption also was postponed until 10 days after the due date for filing an offer of financial extension, which would be March 5, 2012.
The Caddo Valley is the last rail line in Pike County. The railroad extends from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood.
(Thursday, February 23, 2012)
The Postal Regulatory Commission says the Postal Service decision to close the Saratoga, Arkansas Post Office has not adequately considered all requirements needed to close a post office and has remanded the proposed action back for further consideration.
The Postal Service has issued a Final Determination to Close the Saratoga office. On October 18, 2011 that decision was appealed by several residents of Saratoga.
There are apparently two issues the PRC is recommending further examination regarding the Saratoga appeal. The PRC said, "It appears from the Administrative Record that the Postal Service did not, prior to issuance of the Final Determination, consider Petitioner's expression of concern over the adequacy of the number of post office boxes available to new customers at the Columbus Post Office."
The PRC is also questioning the money savings. The Postal Service is estimating a total annual savings of $51,129. The lease for the Saratoga office does not include a release clause and does not expire until December 15, 2015. The PRC says no savings attributable to the lease will materialize for almost four years. "Despite what appears to be a significant potential delay in the realization of any benefits from the termination of the lease, the Postal Service presents, without explanation, immediate rental savings in its projection of economic savings."
The PRC says the Postal Service also failed to list any cost estimates for moving post office boxes from Saratoga to Columbus.
The Postal Regulatory Commission has also announced it has affirmed the Final Determination to Close for the Ozan and Ogden Post Offices.
This is a developing story. Keep checking back for updates...
(Friday, February 10, 2012)
The Saratoga-Okay area is approaching a anniversary that changed a way of life. It was 20 years ago, on March 6, 1992, that Holnam (now named Holcim) announced that it was closing its cement plant at Okay. Okay is located one mile off Highway 355 north of Saratoga. Cement production ceased at the close of the day shift on December 18, 1992. Product in storage was shipped out, usable equipment was sent out to other Holnam operations or sold, and the plant itself was torn down over the next couple of years.
In making the announcement in 1992, the press release from its U.S. headquarters in Dundee, Michigan said...Two key factors drove the direction of the final decision. The first is the over capacity of cement in the Okay market region. The second is an effort to reduce costs within the company. "It is difficult to make a decision like this, especially when realizing the disruptive effect it will have on employees," said Mark von Wyss, president and CEO of Holnam. At the time of the announcement, 80 employees worked there.
The plant was originally built in 1929, and was expanded in 1957. For most of its existence, the plant was operated by Ideal Basic Industries, which merged into Holnam in 1990. Through the years Ideal owned the Graysonia, Nashville and Ashdown Railroad (GNA). Holnam sold the short line to Kansas City Southern Railway, which operated it for several years, and currently leases the line to the Arkansas Southern Railroad. It's natural gas company, Louisiana-Nevada Transit, was sold to Arkla Gas. Southern Cement Transport, a trucking company that hauled cement, located next door, no longer exists.
As it became apparent the plant was in trouble, employees and community members worked to help the company get a permit to burn tires as a fuel source. (That brought environmental opposition from a Texarkana-based group, Friends United for a Safe Environment, or FUSE.) In lieu of some of its local tax payments close to the end, the company paved the parking lot at Saratoga Schools. The cement plant was the main local tax source for the Saratoga School District.
The closing of the operation also brought to a close a unique chapter in the Saratoga-Okay area. As the plant was being built, so was the company village of Okay. In its heyday, dozens of houses lined its paved boulevards. There was a post office (parts of Texarkana, Arkansas use the old Zip Code of 71854), apartments, a store, churches and a school. All of this began to be phased out in the 1960s. The school is celebrated with the Okay-Saratoga School reunion each Memorial Day weekend. All that's left is the Community Baptist Church, organized in 1946, a Southwestern Electric Power Company sub-station and a safety marker. The latter two are not accessible to the public. The substation and the high transmission power lines are being upgraded in association with the construction of the John Turk Power Plant near McNab. The church still holds services each Sunday and Wednesday. The Okay School sat behind the church. The streets of the village, paved with concrete, are still intactg as are sidewalks to the church building and to the long-gone school building. Holcim owns the property and leases the hunting, grazing and hay rights. The company built a cement terminal at Hope with product shipped in from other plants for regional customers after the Okay plant closed.
Below, is a photo by Sue Porter Reed, showing the plant manager's house and the smoke stacks of the plant, after its closing. The manager's house was later burned as a training exercise for the Saratoga Volunteer Fire Department.
(Tuesday, February 7, 2012)
The Surfon Board has denied a request by Caddo Valley Railroad for reconsideration of the Board's December 13, 2011 decision, which extended the deadline for offers to purchase the line segments sought to be abandoned. The Board said that the railroad presented "no new evidence, that circumstances have not changed since the December 13 decision, and the Board's prior action did not involve material error."
The line in question is known as the Norman or Bird's Mill Branch and extends from Gurdon to north of Glenwood, about 52 miles. Last year, Arkansas Midland Railroad began emergency service on less than three miles of the line around Gurdon to serve a large wood products plant. Arkansas Midland later exercised its "right of first refusal" to purchase the segment, followed by Caddo Valley's decision to abandon the other 49 miles. (The right of first refusal dates back to Arkansas Midland's previous ownership of the line and its forced sale under the feeder line program that included the provision. A complete summary of the lines recent checkered history can be found by scrolling down this page.) Caddo Valley Railroad is a component of the Bean Family of companies that were part of a bankruptcy and later an auction of some assets. Previous STB filings referenced the tenuous condition of the company. Service was suspended from Antoine to Glenwood in the summer of 2009 due to poor track conditions. Still later, service was suspended from near Gurdon to Antoine, due to money woes and track conditions.
On November 28, 2011, Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority filed a formal expression of intent to file an Offer of Financial Assistance to purchase the line. On December 2, Caddo Valley provided certain information in response to the Authority's request, as well as a net liquidation value of the 49 miles of line. It also objected to the Intermodal Authority's request to postpone the financial assistance deadline. On December 8, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe wrote a letter to the Surface Transportation Board on behalf of the Intermodal Authority requesting deadlines be extended to June 16, 2012 to allow time for the pursuit of financial options. On December 13, the STB extended the deadline to February 24, 2012.
The STB also denied Caddo Valley's request that the Intermodal Authority be required to post a bond that would hold the railroad harmless should the market value of its assets drop below its calculated net liquidation value.
The line is the only railroad that remains in Pike County in southwest Arkansas. Arkansas Midland is a part of the Pinsly family of shortline railroads and operates several lines in Arkansas, including the Prescott and Northwestern in Nevada County.
(Thursday, January 19, 2011)
The Surface Transporation Board has granted an extension to the deadline for filing offers to purchase the Caddo Valley Railroad after receiving a letter from Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe on behalf of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority. In the letter, the Governor asked for a six-month delay of the abandonment to allow the Intermodal Authority additional time to pursue financing options to purchase the line. Apparently, the STB has extended the deadline only to February 24, 2012.
Washington, D.C. attorney Richard Streeter, representing the Caddo Valley, in responding to Governor Beebe's letter, alleges the STB violated its own criteria by granting the stay. Streeter says a stay threatens the insolvent railroad company with irreparable harm if the market for scrap steel were to collapse. Scrap value is estimated at $3.3 million dollars.
Streeter says the Intermodal Authority has not submitted an offer of financial assistance nor offered a bond that would cover potential losses if the scrap market were to collapse before the abandonment becomes effective. He said the railroad does not find solace in the Governor's statement that "in no way does (his) letter imply any offer of financial assistance by the State of Arkansas."
Streeter said at minimum the Intermodal Authority should be required to post a bond that would hold Caddo Valley Railroad harmless should the market value drop below the net liquidation value, saying "the Intermodal Authority shoud not be given a free ride."
Saratoga Arkansas Digest has written extensively about this situation. Scroll down for a number of posts on the Caddo Valley dating to October 2010.
(Thursday, December 15, 2011)
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe has weighed in on the abandonment of a southwest Arkansas rail line. In a letter dated December 8, 2011 addressed to Cynthia Brown, Chief, Section of Administration-Office of Proceedings of the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C., the Governor is asking for an extension of the effective abandonment date of the Caddo Valley Railroad from December 16, 2011 until June 16, 2012. The line in question extends from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood, approximately 49 miles.
Beebe says he is making the request on behalf of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority to allow the Authority to pursue financing options regarding the purchase the Caddo Valley.
In the letter, he says "during the past several weeks, members of my economic staff have met extensively with representatives of the Intermodal Authority, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and local officials to assess the economic feasibility of purchasing and reopening the Caddo Valley Railroad. Preliminary discussions with prospective businesses and existing employers along the Caddo Valley indicate imminent possibilities to expand employment should rail service be restored. This could create several hundred new direct jobs in an economically distressed region."
The letter continues, "because of the complex legal and financial issues involved in the purchase, rehabilitation and future operation, it's imperative that an extension of at least six months be granted to ensure that a viable offer of financial assistance can be prepared. Such extension will ensure that all optimal financing options, both public and private, are evaluated." The letter said this is not to imply any offer of financial assistance from the state, at this time.
On September 29, 2011 Arkansas Midland Railroad exercised its right of first refusal and re-acquired 2.57 miles of rail line in the Gurdon area to serve a Georgia-Pacific wood products mill. In October, Caddo Valley Railroad filed two petitions to abandon the line; the segment from near Gurdon to Antoine and from Antoine to Bird's Mill, which includes the cities of Amity and Glenwood. The Antoine to Glenwood segment was last operated in 2009, while Gurdon to Antoine was operated as late as 2010.
The entire 52 mile line was acquired in 2000 by Caddo Valley in a forced sale from Arkansas Midland. In abandonment filings, it was stated the company operated successfully for several years until it began to experience operational and financial difficulties attributable to its affiliation to Bean Lumber Company. Bean Lumber was sold in October 2011 for $4 million dollars to primary creditor Caterpillar, with a large equipment auction that followed in November.
The rail line is Pike County's only railroad.
Scroll down for background in previous stories on the situation and click on "Photos" for shots of the line at Antoine.
(Sunday, December 11, 2011) Credit line: Dale Gathright, Jr. & Saratoga Arkansas Digest
The Kiamichi Railroad has posted a $10 thousand reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for burning one of its trestles, which severed the Ashdown-Hope line. The November 9 fire is believed to be arson, and heavily damaged a wooden trestle near the Little River. Railroad officials expect the line to be closed through January 2012.
Kiamichi has re-established service to its Hope customers by detouring on the Arkansas Southern Railroad from Ashdown to Nashville, then via the Union Pacific to Hope.
(Thursday, November 24, 2011)
(Photo by Scott Dunson from the overpass in Nashville showing the first detour train from Hope.)
The Kiamichi Railroad has resumed service to Hope, Arkansas via a detour route after an apparent arson destroyed a trestle November 9, cutting the line to Ashdown and isolating several Hope area customers.
Until the trestle is rebuilt, trains leaving Ashdown will run on the Arkansas Southern Railroad, (including the tracks across Millwood Dam through Saratoga, Okay, and Mineral Springs) to Nashville. At Nashville, using what had been a mostly dormant line through a former industrial siding, the train will access Union Pacific's Nashville Branch for the rest of the trip to Hope, with the routing reversed for the return to Ashdown.
In Hope, the Kiamichi hauls inbound grain to mix for chicken feed at mills for Tyson and Pilgrims, inbound cement for Holcim and inbound flour for Southern Bakeries. Kiamichi also exchanges cars with Union Pacific in Hope, including cement from Ash Grove in Foreman for a Central Arkansas terminal, outbound paper from Domtar in Ashdown and inbound paper making minerals, as well as a variety of other freight.
This arrangement could last through the winter. The railroad estimates repair costs will be in the millions of dollars.
This detour is resulting in extra train traffic on lines that normally see, on average, 1-2 trains a day.
(The above photos by Scott Dunson shows a 40 car Kiamichi freight train easing through Nashville)
(Thursday, November 17, 2011)
Caddo Valley Railroad Company has filed two petitions before the Surface Transportation Board in effect asking for permission to abandon its rail line from near Gurdon to Bird's Mill near Glenwood. The line is in Pike and Clark Counties, and is Pike County's only railroad. The filing include the segment from near Gurdon to Antoine and from Antoine to Bird's Mill. This line is sometimes called the Norman Branch. Also includes is a short spur that ends in an inactive gravel operation between Antoine and Delight.
Caddo Valley acquired the entire line from Arkansas Midland Railroad in September 2000 pursuant to the Feeder Line Development Program as part of a forced sale, with Arkansas Midland having the right of first refusal if the line went up for sale. Caddo Valley successfully operated for several years until it began to experience operational and financial difficulties, many of which, according to the filings, were attributable to its corporate affiliate, Bean Lumber Company.
Bean Lumber Company's property in Glenwood was sold in October to primary creditor Caterpillar for $4 million in a foreclosure auction. A large amount of Bean Equipment goes up for auction Wednesday, November 9. Caterpillar is quoted as saying they hope tp sell the Glenwood property this month.
In 2005, Caddo Valley attempted to sell its outstanding common stock to Pioneer Rail Corp, a shortline operator, but that was blocked by Arkansas Midland's right of first refusal, which was upheld by the Surface Transportation Board in 2008.
As the company's financial condition continued to deteriorate, the line from Antoine to Glenwood became inoperable due to track and bridge conditions, with a train operating from Antoine for the final time in 2009. At that time, Bean Lumber began trucking its product to Antoine to load on rail. That ended in 2010, and a final reload was conducted at Gurdon to load the lumber on rail.
In September 2010, Caddo Valley requested Arkansas Midland provide emergency service on a three mile section of track at Gurdon to service the lines largest shipper, Georgia-Pacific. Caddo Valley has sold that segment to Arkansas Midland.
According to the filings, Caddo Valley says it may enter into an agreement with Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority, which would rail bank the right-of-way in order to preserve the rail corridor, which consists of easements dating back to the 19th and early part of the 20th century.
In September 2011, Saratoga Arkansas Digest happened upon a Lone Star Railroad Contractors crew inspecting the line near Okolona. Scroll down for additional stories on this lines saga.
(The above image was made in December 2010 in the Antoine yard with the view towards Amity and Glenwood. Photo by Scott Dunson.)
(Sunday, November 6, 2011)
A dozen Arkansas post offices have apparently been removed from the list of facilities facing possible closing. That list includes offices in Columbus, Washington, Rosston and New Hope. These were offices being studied for closure under the Retail Access Optimization Initiative.
The local offices were part of a "second wave" of closure study announcements this summer in Southwest Arkansas. Other offices, including Saratoga, Ozan and Ogden, have been issued the Final Determination to Close.
Notices of appeal regarding the closures have been filed by residents of Saratoga, Ozan and Ogden. Once closure notices are posted, there's a 30-day window of appeal. The Postal Regulatory Commission has 120 days from the receipt of the appeal during which time the post office remains open. The Commission does not determine if an office closes, but only determines if the Postal Service followed the rules regarding a closing.
In a letter dated October 25, 2011, the Postal Regulatory Commission says a deadline of November 22, 2011 has been set for submission of arguments regarding the Saratoga Post Office.
(Monday, October 31, 2011)
Arkansas Midland Railroad has submitted a letter to the Surface Transportation Board informing the board it has exercised its statutory right of first refusal to reacquire a portion of a rail line previously owned by the company that it was forced to sell in 2000.
Caddo Valley Railroad Company on September 1, 2000 acquired Arkansas Midland's so-called "Norman Branch" extending 52 miles from Gurdon to Bird's Mill, Arkansas near Glenwood. The line is the only rail line left in Pike County. The line from Antoine to Glenwood has been out-of-service since summer 2009, while only about 2.57 miles around Gurdon has been operated, currently under trackage rights granted by Caddo Valley to Arkansas Midland.
On September 29, 2011, pursuant to its rights under the feeder line program, Arkansas Midland reacquired the segment of the Norman Branch from milepost 426.88 in Gurdon to milepost 429.45 north of Gurdon (the "Southern Segment.") As part of the same transaction, Arkansas Mildand says it waived its statutory rights with respect to the remainder of the Norman Branch (the "Northern Segment"). The filing states Caddo Valley Railroad is proceeding with abandonment of the Northern Segment in action to be filed shortly with the Surface Transportation Board.
Arkansas Midland previously had obtained local trackage rights on the Southern Segment. The company says those trackage rights merged into Arkansas Midland's ownership of the Southern Segment once it consummated its reacquisition of the line.
Arkansas Midland owns several rail lines in Arkansas, including the Prescott & Northwestern.
Scroll down for several posts regarding this rail line. Saratoga Arkansas Digest has been the only news outlet that has covered this story since it broke last year. The photo above was taken December 2010 by Scott Dunson at Caddo Valley's rail yard in Antoine. The locomotive is apparently inoperable and is currently "land-locked," because crossings have been paved over on the Okolona Road and some track components are missing near Gurdon. STAY TUNED!
(Thursday, October 13, 2011)
Bones discovered during an archeological dig in January 2010 near Saratoga are not the remains of missing Saratoga resident Robert Lomax. Results of DNA tests were recently received by the Howard County Sheriff's Office.
Lomax went missing Thanksgiving night, 1992, and authorities suspected foul play from the start.
Howard County Investigator David Shelton told Saratoga Arkansas Digest news that an archeology team was working around Millwood Lake in Howard County near Saratoga and where Lomax was last seen when they discovered human bones on top of the ground. Investigator Shelton said that was "uncommon." Due to the proximity of this location and where Lomax was last seen, the bones were sent to the Arkansas Crime Lab, who forwarded the remains to the Center for Human Identification in Dallas, Texas. A DNA sample was obtained from a known relative of Lomax. Shelton said the DNA was not a match, with the Dallas lab saying the bones were "relatively old" and were the remains of a Native American.
Investigator Shelton said the case remains open and active.
Witness statements reflect that Lomax had Thanksgiving dinner at the residence of Henry and Peggy Olden, who lived near him on Chapel Hill Street in Saratoga. He reportedly stayed until about 5:00 p.m. and left to walk the short distance home, saying "he needed the exercise." That was the last time he was seen alive.
*(The editor of this article became involved with this story as it developed and this will be provided as a narrative: A man who was visiting at his wife's home place in Saratoga had befriended Robert. He saw Dornell Trotter and myself at a store and relayed that he had taken a plate of food to Robert's house Thanksgiving and left it on the porch when he did not get an answer at the door. This would be the time Robert was at the Olden's. He said he went back Friday and the plate was still untouched on the front porch. After hearing this information, Mr. Trotter and myself start to Lomax's house. We meet Howard County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Hughes, my first cousin, on patrol in front of the church on Highway 32 and accompany us to the house.. After not getting an answer at the door, Trotter enters the house through a window, then a search is made. Though Robert was 80 years old, he was in good health and walked to and from town and his neighbors regularly.)
An extensive search was conducted by then sheriff Dick Wakefield and his department utilizing approximately 100 searchers and a helicopter. The search was called off after three days. Sheriff Wakefield believed foul play did exist in the matter and asked the Arkansas State Police to assist in the investigation.
Investigator Jerry Reed (deceased) of the Arkansas State Police conducted interviews of people in the area and searched the Lomax residence. According to a unsolved case posting on the Howard County sheriff's webside is this statement, "Although there was no evidence of foul play at the residence, the feelings of local residents were that Mr. Lomax was robbed and killed. He was known to carry large amounts of cash on his person at all times."
The case is considered a homicide. Anyone having information about the disappearance of Robert Lomax is asked to contact the Criminal Investigation Division of the Howard County Sheriff's department at 870-845-2626.
© Thursday, September 29, 2011
The U.S. Postal Service has issued its final determination to close post offices in Saratoga, Ozan and Ogden. Notices were posted Thursday, September 29.
The notice posted in the Saratoga Post Office says, "The Postal Service is issuing the final determination to close the Saratoga, AR Post Office and provide delivery and retail services by rural route service under the administrative responsibility of the Columbus Post Office, located six miles away." Ozan customers are directed to the Nashville Post Office and Ogden Post Office customers are directed to the Ashdown Post Office.
Saratoga customers are being directed to the Columbus Post Office that on September 27 posted a proposal to close notice saying the Postal Service is considering closure with its customers being directed to the Mineral Springs Post Office. Unknown at this time what affect this will have on Saratoga customers that have been directed to the Columbus Post Office. No date for the Columbus public meeting has been announced.
Postings at the three affected offices included a list of additional concerns and responses received after public meetings were held.
The notices will be posted through October 31, 2011. Individuals served by the offices can appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission within 30 days of the date the final determination is posted. Copies of all materials used by the Postal Service to make the determinations are available at the affected office and the recommended office.
(Thursday, September 29, 2011)
There may be some movement in the long-running saga of the Caddo Valley Railroad in Southwest Arkansas. The line extends from Gurdon to Bird's Mill (north of Glenwood) and is the only rail line left in Pike County. Except for 2.57 miles around Gurdon being operated by the Arkansas Midland Railroad via a trackage-rights agreement to serve a Georgia-Pacific wood products operation, the rest of the nearly 50 miles of railroad remains out of service.
A private rail contractor has been surveying the line. The poor condition of the line and continuing financial issues involving Caddo Valley's owners, the Bean family, have been cited in filings for the railroad's inability to get the line back in service.
Arkansas Midland once operated the line. (Scroll down for a number of stories posted earlier covering the drama of previous years.) Arkansas Midland operates several shortline railroads in Arkansas, including the Prescott & Northwestern. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department recently received a $2,721,435 federal grant to rehabilitate and improve 40 miles along the Arkansas Midland's Warren Branch serving Bradley, Chicot and Drew Counties in Southeast Arkansas.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration, which issued the grant, said planned improvements will remedy poor track conditions caused by inadequate drainage and heavy freight loads that have contributed to washouts, broken rails, derailments and the imposition of slow orders.
(Tuesday, September 20, 2011)
There's been a major development regarding a Southwest Arkansas rail line and its continued emergency operation.
Pursuant to a written trackage rights agreement, Caddo Valley Railroad Company has agreed to grant local trackage rights to Arkansas Midland Railroad Company, over approximately 2.57 miles of Caddo Valley's rail line, known as the Gurdon Segment, extending from a connection with the Union Pacific Railroad at Gurdon to allow service to the Georgia Pacific lumber and woods product mill near Gurdon.
According to the Surface Transportation Board, the earliest this transaction may be consummated is July 7, 2011, "the effective date of the exemption, 30 days after the exemption was filed, unless otherwise ordered by the Board."
The Board said the purpose is to allow Arkansas Midland to continue to provide rail service on the Gurdon Segment "pending transfer of the line to Arkansas Midland."
The current saga began September 10, 2010 when Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service on the Gurdon Segment. Similar petitions were granted October 15, 2010 and February 11, 2011. The emergency service authority cannot be extended beyond Tuesday, June 14, 2011.
What's not determined is the fate of the remaining 49 miles of the line that reaches through Antoine to Glenwood, and is the only rail line in Pike County. Service on the Antoine to Glenwood segment was suspended in 2009 due to poor track conditions.
Caddo Valley Railroad is owned by the financially troubled Bean Lumber Company, and was part of a forced-sale from Arkansas Midland after it suspended service in 1993 on the line after floods caused washouts. Arkansas Midland has the right of first refusal on the railroad.
Arkansas Midland owns several lines in Arkansas, including the storied Prescott and Northwestern Railroad.
Scroll down to more stories of the railroad situation and a more in-depth look at what has led to the current situation. The photo with the story was taken in December 2010 at Antoine looking towards Glenwood, and is part of a photo album documenting several endangered places around Antoine.
(Monday, June 13, 2011)
The Surface Transportation Board has granted another emergency service order extension allowing the Arkansas Midland Railroad Company to operate 3.1 miles of track near Gurdon owned by the Caddo Valley Railroad. The February 11, 2011 action extends the order until June 14, 2011. This is the final extension that can be granted.
On September 10, 2010, Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service for an initial period of 30 days on 3 miles of track near Gurdon. That request was granted September 17, 2010, and Arkansas Midland began service on September 20. On October 8, Arkansas Midland sought an extension of its service authority for 120 days, which was also granted.
In a petition filed February 4, 2011, Arkansas Midland seeks a further 120-day extension, saying that Caddo Valley Railroad has ceased operations, has no serviceable locomotives, and is not in a financial position to obtain a locomotive or to resume service. Arkansas Midland states it has discussed potential disposition of the Gurdon Segment and other assets with Caddo Valley, and has tendered a proposal to Caddo Valley. The railroad says it's aware the emergency service authority cannot be extended beyond June 14, 2011, and "that it remains committed to seeking an arrangement that would allow transfer" to Arkansas Midland by that date. It says the one active shipper, Georgia Pacific, and Caddo Valley Railroad support the extension, and the connecting carrier, Union Pacific, has been informed of the situation.
The Board says the record in this case shows that the transportation emergency continues to exist and the extension is appropriate. The STB said the record also indicates the parties are working toward a long-term solution to the situation, and the extension should provide the parties time to reach a permanent arrangement.
What's not determined is the fate of the remaining 49 miles of the Norman (or Bird's Mill) Branch that serves Antoine, Amity and Glenwood, and is Pike County's only railroad. Service on the segment from Antoine to Glenwood was suspended in 2009 due to poor track conditions.
The line has had a recent checkered history, some of which you can read by scrolling down this page. The above picture shows the overgrown Antoine (PK Junction) rail yard that was the operational headquarters, and what's apparently an inoperable locomotive in the Caddo Valley's open air repair shed. The above photo was taken in December 2010 by Scott Dunson as he and the editor documented some endangered locations around Antoine, some of which I will post later.
(Tuesday, February 15, 2011)
The Surface Transportation Board has granted an extension to Arkansas Midland Railroad's authority to provide emergency rail service on 3.1 miles of track owned by the Caddo Valley Railroad near Gurdon, Arkansas. Friday, October 15, 2010, the STB granted the request, extending the authority to February 14, 2011.
On September 10, 2010, Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service for an initial period of 30 days, and the emergency service began September 20.
On October 8, Arkansas Midland filed a petition seeking an extension of its service authority for 120 days. Arkansas Midland explained that Caddo Valley has ceased operations, has no serviceable locomotives, and is not in a financial position to obtain a locomotive or resume service. Arkansas Midland says its meeting with Caddo Valley to discuss the long-term disposition of the Gurdon Segment, and believes the 120-day extension will allow time for the parties to reach an agreement and consummate a transfer of the line.
The remaining 49 miles of line, which has not been operated past Antoine since May 2009, remain in limbo. Arkansas Midland says the line is inoperable at present due to poor track conditions.
(Scroll down to a previous story regarding this line which has some history and background on the current situation.)
(Sunday, October 17, 2010)
The Surface Transportation Board has issued an emergency order to Arkansas Midland Railroad to allow it to operate 3.1 miles of railroad near Gurdon for 30 days. The segment is part of the 52 mile long Norman Branch owned by Caddo Valley Railroad that extends from Gurdon to north of Glenwood. The three mile segment is currently the only part of the line that's in operation.
On September 10, Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service for an initial period of 30 days. Caddo Valley serves two shippers on the segment; Georgia Pacific and Bean Lumber. GP operates the former international Paper wood products mill north of Gurdon, while Bean Lumber has relocated a re-load center from Antoine to Gurdon. Bean Lumber has an interest in the Caddo Valley, and is trucking the wood products from its Amity mill to Gurdon for loading on to rail cars.
In filings with the Surface Transportation Board, Caddo Valley (CVR) states it has experienced serious financial difficulties and does not have enough cash resources to continue service or maintenance of the Gurdon Segment. CVR stated in the filing it had a single, serviceable locomotive, on a short-term lease set to expire September 18, and said it was in no position to extend its lease or to make alternative locomotive arrangements, and that it would suspend its remaining operations on that date or sooner.
The two railroads state that have executed an "Agreement for Temporary Operation of Rail Line," which will govern Arkansas Midland's occupancy of the Gurdon Segment during the period the emergency service order is in effect. Arkansas Midland has committed to provide rail service to the two shippers with interchange to the Union Pacific railroad at Gurdon.
The Caddo Valley Railroad is Pike County's only railroad. In the STB filing, it's stated the segment from Antoine to Glenwood has not been operated since May 2009, with service ceasing to Antoine this summer following the Bean Lumber re-load opening at Gurdon. The line from Antoine to Glenwood is inoperable due to poor track conditions, and there are no customers besides Georgia Pacific and Bean Lumber from Gurdon to Antoine.
In recent years, this line has been in and out of court. Union Pacific sold the line to Arkansas Midland in 1992. In December 1993, floods washed out parts of the line near Glenwood, and Arkansas Midland embargoed that portion, leaving Glenwood shippers without rail service. In February 1994, it also embargoed service to a gravel operation between Antoine and Delight, keeping the three miles around Gurdon in operation. At that time, the company said it would abandon the northernmost 49 miles. When this happened, the Caddo, Antoine and Little Missouri Railroad petitioned to operate the segment. In 2000, Arkansas Midland was ordered to sell the line under feeder line provisions to Caddo Valley Railroad, while retaining the rights to first refusal if Caddo Valley was to try and sell the line.
There is a small yard at Antoine where Caddo Valley had its base of operations. Due to very poor track conditions, trains were restricted to four miles-an-hour, or 12 hours to traverse the length of the line.
The emergency order does not include the rest of the railroad. Caddo Valley in filings expect its shutdown to be permanent. Thus, the northern 49 miles and Pike County rail service is in limbo.
During the emergency period, Arkansas Midland said it may provide personnel from its Prescott and Northwestern Railroad, which it acquired at the first of the year. Arkansas Midland is part of the Pinsly Railroad Company. It operates a total of 138 miles in Arkansas on seven separate lines, acquired from Union Pacific. The PNW and another Potlatch line, the Warren and Saline River, are operated as sister lines.
(Sunday, October 3, 2010)
There's been a possible major development in the Thanksgiving 1992 disappearance of an elderly Saratoga, Arkansas man. 80 year old Robert Lomax, who lived on what's now known as Chapel Hill Street in the Howard County part of Saratoga, was reported missing to the Howard County Sheriff's Office on November 27, 1992.
Witness statements reflect that Mr. Lomax had Thanksgiving dinner on November 26 at the residence of Henry and Peggy Olden and stayed until around 5 p.m. Mr. Lomax chose to walk home as "he told the Olden's he needed the exercise." The distance from the Olden residence to the Lomax residence is short. When last seen, Mr. Lomax was wearing a brown sweater, blue overalls and a hat.
An extensive search was conducted by then Sheriff Dick Wakefield and his department utilizing approximately 100 searchers and a helicopter. The search was eventually called off after three days without success. Sheriff Wakefield believed that foul play did exist in the matter and asked the Arkansas State Police to assist in the investigation.
Investigator Jerry Reed (now retired) of the Arkansas State Police conducted interviews of people in the area around Saratoga and searched the Lomax residence. Although there was no evidence of foul play at the Lomax residence, the feelings of local residents were that Mr. Lomax was robbed and killed. Mr. Lomax was known to carry large amounts of cash on his person at all times.
The case is considered a homicide.
Authorities say in recent days a bone fragment found by a geology field expedition is being tested to determine if its part of the remains of Mr. Lomax. The find is reportedly within a one mile radius of his residence. The fragment has been sent to the Arkansas Crime Lab for analysis, and DNA samples have reportedly been taken from family members, with additional testing at a Dallas lab.
The writer of this article was involved at the start of the search and provides this narrative: "I was approached by a man on Friday, November 27 who was visiting at his wife's home place in Saratoga and who had befriended Mr. Lomax. He stated he had taken a Thanksgiving plate to the Lomax residence and when he did not get an answer at the door, he left the place on a chair on the front porch. This would have been around the time Mr. Lomax was at the Olden's. He had gone back Friday and the plate was undisturbed where he had left it. With me was Dornell Trotter. We started up to the Lomax house when we observed Howard County Deputy Travis Hughes on patrol on Highway 32. We made contact and all three of us proceeded to the residence. After failing to get anyone to the door and seeing no activity through the windows, Deputy Hughes gave permission to forcibly enter the house, which Mr. Trotter did through a bedroom window adjacent to the front door. A search of the house and property was then conducted with no sign of Mr. Lomax. An organized search began the next day, with volunteers searching the area and locations around Millwood Lake and Saratoga for several weeks following. Though Mr. Lomax was 80 years old, he was in fairly good health and walked to town and other nearby locations on a regular basis. He did not own a car."
Persons with information on this case should call the Howard County Sheriff's Office at 870-845-2626.
(Tuesday, September 7, 2010)
The Saratoga Arkansas Digest was born on Sunday, March 08, 2009 as a hobby and an outlet to write about things from a Saratoga, Arkansas Region view. I was involved in radio news directly and indirectly from 1978-2001 and have on occasion wrote a newspaper story or two. Because of changes in what used to be local media of radio and newspapers, many things never make it to the public. We want to keep you informed of what's happening around here and parts of Southern and Western Arkansas and things of interest in the state.
(Friday, May 8, 2009)
My reading of history convinces me that most bad government has grown out of too much government. (John Sharp Williams)
Wise men have in all ages thought government necessary for the good of mankind...wise governments have always thought religion necessary for the well ordering and well-being of society and accordingly have been ever careful to encourage and protect the ministers of it, paying them the highest public honors, that their doctrines might thereby meet with the greatest respect among the common people. (Benjamin Franklin)
Any business that religion can hurt is a good business to get out of. (W.E. Biederwolf)
The bigger your head, the easier it is to fill your shoes. (Hugh Pyle)
A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have. (Thomas Jefferson)
Keep one thing forever in view--the truth; and if you do this, though it may seem to lead you away from the opinion of men, it will assuredly conduct you to the throne of God. (Horace Mann)
It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence. (John Adams)
The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them. (Thomas Jefferson, 1776)
Political correctness is not really about sensitivity and courtesy, which require mutual respect. Rather, political correctness entails intolerance for some prejudices but impunity for others.-(James Taranto)
One of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating phrases which our Founding Fathers used in the struggle for independence.-(Charles Beard)