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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for August 8, 2023

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.

We start with local news…

Gas Leak in Spring Hill (MauryCountySource)

On August 5, Spring Hill Fire Department responded to the Harvest Point subdivision for a reported odor of gas in the dwelling.

Investigation found an active leak inside the home.

Fire crews ventilated the structure using positive pressure fans and monitored the gas levels inside the home along with ATMOS until it was safe for the homeowner to return inside. No injuries were reported.

Fire Scam (MauryCountySource)

On Thursday August 3, 2023, the Spring Hill Fire Administration was alerted to a possible telephone scam in which businesses were being solicited to provide financial sponsorships to the “Spring Hill Fire Department” for ongoing Fire Prevention Activities.

The Spring Hill Fire Department confirmed on Friday, August 4, after speaking with Paul Bohlander of Community Fire Stoppers in New Windsor, IL, that he was in fact fraudulently representing himself as a member of the Spring Hill Fire Department and was actively working to defraud businesses by having them purchase sponsorships between $500.00 and $1,250.00 for fire prevention activities.

Spring Hill Fire Chief Graig Temple stated, “Municipal fire departments rarely, if ever, seek large financial sponsorships from businesses through third parties, and if a business has questions about the contribution, they should contact the fire department directly before issuing any payments.”

Anyone having been impacted by Community Fire Stoppers or Paul Bohlander is encouraged to contact their local Law Enforcement Agency and file a police report for fraud and theft.

Kids Back to School (CDH)

At Riverside Elementary School, not only did children experience first-day-of-school jitters and excitement, new principal Breckon Pennell also beamed as she began her new role leading the school on Monday.

As 415 school children in first through fourth grades settled into their new classrooms, Pennell began the school day with the Pledge of Allegiance, positive words of encouragement and a joke: "What do you call the cleaners of the ocean? — A mermaid."

After some chuckles, Pennell assured students, "I love you. I believe in you."

After serving as the Middle School Coordinator for MCPS, Pennell, also a veteran school administrator, said she's glad to be back in the swing, experiencing the buzz of a school building.

"I love it. I love being a part of a culture of a school," she said. "Sharing in that culture and being a part of that team is a good feeling."

As she waved to parents and welcomed children, she said her number one goal is to make students feel welcomed.

"It's important for us to be welcoming, helpful and to make sure everyone feels comfortable, excited and safe," she said. "It's also a time of establishing routines and expectations."

Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura visited Riverside to help welcome parents and students ahead of the 8 a.m. bell.

Giving out hugs and reassurance, Ventura comforted an apprehensive child as he entered the building.

"Don't worry," she said. "We will take care of you ... and I like your dinosaur T-shirt."

Ventura said she is breathing a sigh of relief that all but 21 open teaching positions have been filled and all bus routes are accounted for, equipped with a driver or temporary driver. This time last year, the district had 100 open positions on the first day of school and not enough bus drivers.

Last year, classes were combined to combat a teacher shortage and bus rides were longer for students due to drivers taking on multiple routes.

"It feels great," Ventura said. "I feel much more confident starting this year with the pieces in place compared to last year. We are ready. I am excited about our staff."

Ventura said she is also encouraged after an intense summer tackling third grade retention guidelines, which went into effect per state law, following 2021 legislation by the Tennessee General Assembly.

The district began with 50% of third graders not reaching proficiency on TCAP, which resulted in a mad dash to enroll at-risk third grade students into summer school intervention camp STAR, or Super Thinkers And Readers, to either reach proficiency at the end of the summer, commit to a fourth grade tutor or be retained in some circumstances.

Out of all third graders who endured a rigorous vetting process and summer program, 97.7% of 1,000 third grade students were promoted to fourth grade.

Ventura said her motto for this year is, "Don't look back, push forward."

"We have looked back at the data, and now it's push forward. I am most excited about our new phonics program and new career exploration teachers in middle schools. Those are the two newest additions to our school day that I am looking forward to. Hopefully it will bring us to the next level."

Lawrenceburg Deputies Up on Federal Charges (MainStreetMaury)

A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment on July 24 charging two Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies with federal civil rights and obstruction offenses stemming from their use of unlawful force during the arrest of a 61-year-old man.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Henry C. Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee, Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas DePodesta made the announcement.

According to the indictment, on Oct. 5, 2020, in Giles County, Sherriff’s Investigator Zach Ferguson and Deputy Eric Caperton threw the victim to the ground, struck him multiple times in the head and caused his head to strike the pavement. As a result of these actions, the victim suffered serious injuries.

The indictment further alleges that the defendants attempted to cover up their misconduct by filing false reports. Finally, the indictment alleges the defendants obstructed justice by falsely telling criminal investigators that the victim’s upper body never touched the ground during the arrest and falsely claiming that the victim’s injuries were caused by punches that Ferguson delivered while the arrestee was still inside his van.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the excessive force charge and up to 20 years in prison for the obstruction charges. A federal district court judge would determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI Memphis Field Office investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rascoe Dean and Special Litigation Counsel Michael J. Songer of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.

Preservation Park (CDH)

Columbia City council revisited plans for a project to reflect the city's presidential history, while updating a piece of land into a new landmark for citizens to visit.

The Polks at Preservation Park project was first introduced in 2019, where a lease agreement was approved by the Maury County Commission. The project, however, was delayed the following year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has since been scheduled to start sometime in 2023.

The idea was to take Preservation Park, located at the intersection of West 7th and North High Streets (across from the James K. Polk Home & Museum), and give it an upgrade, with a little more to commemorate its location in regard to Columbia's history.

This includes replacing the park's benches and fountain, redoing the brickwork, as well as memorializing James and Sarah Polk as bronze statues commissioned to local sculptor Jennifer Grisham.

"We are looking to update that corner, take out the old brick and put in some new brick along the wall surrounding the park, replacing the fountain, as well as landscaping and installing city historical markers," City Manager Tony Massey said.

Preservation Park was originally donated to the city in 1995 by the Maury County Historical Society.

The council will vote later this month on the project's lease agreement, which carries a term of 25 years at a cost of $1 per year.

"That wall will have a veneer stone added to the face of it on both sides, as well as a capstone," Public Works Director Jeff DeWire said. "We plan to incorporate that same veneer stone with what's currently under the existing fountain, because now what you see is just raw concrete that's exposed along the perimeter of the circular wall. Everything will match and tie in nicely."

DeWire added that the stone will be similar to the fountain located at the intersection of North Main and 6th Streets.

Tourism and Marketing Director Kellye Murphy said she hopes the project will move swiftly, and that an official opening can be organized later this year to commemorate the park.

"We are hoping to have the bronze statues completed so that we can have some sort of opening at the first part of November around the President's birthday," Murphy said.

CSCC Performance Series (Press Release)

Columbia State Community College is pleased to announce the artist roster for the 2023-2024 First Farmers Performance Series season.


“We are excited to share this stellar line up of talent for the 2023-2024 Performance Series!” said Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State president. “We've crafted this season with you in mind, and we cannot wait to present these world-class musicians and artists to you and our community.” 

“This season's Performance Series is a fabulous mixture of different genres—all with the goal of providing family-friendly opportunities to explore the arts,” said Bethany Lay, Columbia State vice president for advancement and executive director of the Columbia State Foundation.

Opening night, Oct. 19, features The Great DuBois. The Great DuBois’ variety show is a fast-paced, hilarious performance for all ages! It showcases incredible feats of juggling, hula hoops, unicycle, aerial, circus stunts, contortion, magic, and audience interaction. Simply put this is the most unique two-person variety show you will ever see! Bring the family for a fun night!

Nov. 9 will showcase The Doo Wop Project. The Doo Wop Project, the dynamic celebration of a beloved music genre, features five engaging stars from smash Broadway hits and their all-star band. Bring the family and get ready to experience a fantastic evening of the greatest music in American pop history!

On Dec. 14, Jake Shimabukuro will ring in the holidays. Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele master and jolly ambassador of aloha, and his talented team will share a musical gift for all this holiday season! Bring the family and join in the celebration.

Performing Feb. 15 is Steep Canyon Rangers. The Steep Canyon Rangers are big players in the bluegrass and Americana music scene today, and their performance is sure to be unforgettable. Bring your family and experience this talented team of musicians.

March 14 Shane Profitt will perform. Country singer-songwriter Shane Profitt went from punching the clock for the City of Columbia to rocking sold-out crowds at the Ryman and standing ovations at the Grand Ole Opry. Bring your family for a hometown celebration of Shane and his music.

Closing the series April 18 is John Oates. John Oates, member of the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame and best-selling singer-songwriter, will share an acoustic evening of songs and stories. Bring the family and experience John's world-renowned talent.

Tickets go on sale online Aug. 21, at 9 a.m. at Tickets for each performance are $35 each, which includes all fees. Individuals may also contact the Performance Series ticket line at 931.540.2879, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On performance nights, the box office opens at 6 p.m. in the Kenneth and Ramona Cherry Theater, located in the Waymon L. Hickman Building on the Columbia Campus. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and all shows begin at 7 p.m. The Columbia Campus is located at 1665 Hampshire Pike in Columbia.

For more information, visit

9/11 Memorial (Press Release)

Join the City of Columbia and Columbia Fire and Rescue as they conduct their annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony. Located at Firefighters Park at 1000 S. Garden Street at 8:00am on Monday September 11th, local leaders will honor the brave men and women of emergency services. The public is invited to attend.

Pryor Art Gallery Hosting Exhibition (Press Release)

Columbia State Community College’s Pryor Art Gallery will feature the exhibition “Anna Marie Pavlik: Traces of Our National Parks.” The exhibition, which includes prints inspired by various national parks, will be open to the public from August 16 until September 22.

“With the spirit of an explorer, Anna Marie spends time at our national parks,” said Lisa Hoffman, Pryor Art Gallery curator. “Courageously venturing alone, either by foot or canoe, she sojourns with nature even at times when it is at odds with her. In one park, the staff had labeled her a "lost artist" when she was unable to paddle back to her campsite and she had paddled dangerously close to Mexico all night.”

Anna Marie Pavlik, a printmaker from Frankfort, Kentucky, will feature about 30 beautiful prints she created from her work as an artist in residence at various national parks. She has a bachelor’s degree in both mechanical engineering and studio arts, and holds a patent for a wire gripping device from her time at 3M Corporation.

Pavlik became more involved with art and joined Flatbed Press in Austin, Texas. Through intricate printmaking, she addresses her concern for the survival of natural areas and humanity’s relationship to the natural environment. Pavlik has been featured in various exhibitions, public collections and publications, as well as holds affiliations with more than 10 galleries. 

“Growing concern for the survival of natural areas and the need I perceive in people to understand their relationship to the environment have encouraged me to work with nature-related themes,” Pavlik stated in her artist statement. “My images are focused on revealing and presenting how nature has functioned. I extract the concepts which I visually explore, from my observations of natural sites, science publications and maps.  By creating these works, I hope to direct the viewer’s attention to the irreplaceable value, sublime beauty and mystery found within our natural environment.”

The exhibition is free and open to the public. The Pryor Art Gallery is in the Waymon L. Hickman Building on the Columbia Campus located at 1665 Hampshire Pike and is open Monday -Thursday, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m and Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.

The opening reception, which is also free and open to the public, will be August 31 from 5 – 7 p.m. Pavlik will be in attendance as a special guest and speaker at the reception.

For additional information about this exhibition, please visit or on Facebook at ColumbiaStatePAG.

For more information about the Pryor Art Gallery, contact Hoffman at 931.540.2883 or

Maury County Fair (MauryCountySource)

The Maury County Fair will return on Thursday, August 31st and run until Monday, September 4th, 2023.

All the family fun and entertainment you love will soon be back!

This year, the fair festivities begins with a Rodeo, taking place on Thursday of Fair Week. Several other popular events will be happening like the junk car jump and run and the Saturday motocross races.

In addition to the back arena fun, all your favorite animal shows and exhibitor competitions are back this year too! The kids zone will see a variety of live, exotic animals and science shows that will amaze kids of every age.

For more on the fair and updates, visit

Legislative Lunch (Press Release)

Join Maury Alliance for a Legislative Lunch featuring Congressman Andy Ogles for a stimulating discussion around the current issues facing our business community and nation. This exclusive event offers the opportunity for you to engage with one of our federal representatives and gain valuable insights into current legislative matters. You may submit questions in advance by emailing them to

The event will take place on August 15th from 11:30-1:00pm at Puckett’s in downtown Columbia located at 15 Public Square. The cost is $25 for Maury Alliance Members and $30 for non-members.

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

James Warren “Jim” Thomas, 89, retired employee of the Department of Justice and resident of Columba, died Sunday, August 6, 2023 at NHC Maury Regional Transitional Care. Funeral services will be conducted Friday at 11:00 A.M. at South Gate Church of Christ. The family will visit with friends Thursday from 3:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. at the church. Private family burial will be in Morrow cemetery.

Mrs. Betty Ruth Adams Bigsby, 85, retired waitress for Western Sizzlin and resident of Columbia, died Friday, August 4, 2023 at Maury Regional Medical Center.  A graveside service for Mrs. Bigsby will be conducted Saturday, August 12, 2023 at 11:00 A.M. at Rose Hill Cemetery.

Mr. George Gilbert Brazelton, CLU, 91, retired District Manager for Life Insurance Company of Georgia, died Monday, August 7, 2023 at his residence in Columbia. Funeral services for Mr. Brazelton will be conducted Saturday, August 12, 2023, at 12:00 P.M. at Graymere Church of Christ. Burial will follow in Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 10:00 A.M. until service time at the church.

…And now, news from around the state…

Gas Prices (MainStreetMaury)

 Gas prices across Tennessee rose again for the third consecutive week, climbing eight cents, on average, over last week. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $3.46 which is 36 cents more expensive than one month ago but 17 cents less than one year ago.  

“We’re still experiencing quite a bit of volatility in pump prices across the state, however, we are starting to see signs of stabilization in our state gas price average. Overnight, the state gas price average fell a penny,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “We’re also seeing improvements in refinery operations allowing gasoline stocks to increase. Gasoline demand is also likely to decline as students head back to school, signaling the end of the busy summer driving season. Drivers should still expect to see fluctuations in pump prices this week, and barring any major shifts in market fundamentals, we could see gas prices across the state begin to normalize.” 

Quick Facts

71% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $3.50 

The lowest 10% of pump prices are $3.25 for regular unleaded 

The highest 10% of pump prices are $3.74 for regular unleaded

Tennessee is the 6th least expensive market in the nation

Room At Inn Founder Passes (WPLN)

It was a cold winter night in 1985 when Father Charles Strobel invited the unhoused people sleeping in the church parking lot inside his parish. That act was the seed that one of Nashville’s most well-known shelters — Room in the Inn — grew from.

Strobel died over the weekend at the age of 80.

“Over the past 36 years, I’ve used many images to describe the importance of Room in the Inn,” Strobel said. “I’ve described the program as a sanctuary from the violence of the streets, or Ellis Island for urban refugees.”

Thousands of people have found shelter through Room in the Inn, and have accessed workforce training and even permanent housing help through its programming.

“Today, I join my fellow Nashvillians in mourning the passing of Father Charles Strobel,” Mayor John Cooper said. “His lifelong advocacy for the poor and homeless was a shining example to all of us of how to lift up those less fortunate than us.”

Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Inductees (Tennessean)

Musician and songwriter Kix Brooks will tell you he's rarely at a loss for words.

But a recent phone call from Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Executive Director Mark Ford with news that Brooks would become one of the hall of fame's newest inductees silenced him.

"I could barely talk and say 'thank you' when Mark called," Brooks said Thursday during a press conference announcing the 2023 class. "I literally could not speak. That has never happened to me in my entire life. I was stunned, and I am still stunned. This is the honor of honors for me."

Brooks joins fellow artist nominee Keith Urban and songwriters Casey Beathard, David Lee Murphy and Rafe Van Hoy as the hall's class of 2023. This group is responsible for penning such hits as "Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo," (written by Beathard and recorded by Tracy Byrd) "Living in Fast Forward," (written by David Lee Murphy and recorded by Kenny Chesney) "Golden Ring," (written by Rafe Van Hoy and recorded by George Jones and Tammy Wynette) "But for the Grace of God," (written and recorded by Keith Urban) and "Brand New Man" (written and recorded by Kix Brooks.)

While several of the inductees have songs and backstories in common, the one thing all five of them shared was the significance of getting "the call."

"It was a shock to get the call to find out I was nominated," Urban said. "It was surreal. It was beautiful because I was at the Sound Stage just a block away from here, and I said to Mark it was a perfect place to be because I was standing at the back of Sound Stage when I got the call looking across at where Shoney's (Inn) used to be on Demonbreun, which was where I stayed when I first came to Nashville in 1989."

Beathard said he assumed Ford was calling to say he didn't make the cut from the initial bank of nominees.

"I was in a writing room, and I said 'I've gotta step out and take this call,' he said. "I thought it'd be a short call. I thought, 'Hey Mark, let's just get this over with, it's ok.' What a great group of guys. I don't feel worthy anyway, so let's just get this over with."

Murphy said for most songwriters, getting the call is one of those "Ten-feet-off-the-ground moments."

"I'll never forget when I got the call: I was nominated and then when Mark called me and told me I was going to get inducted, I did back flips," he said. "It's a huge honor to be here. The songwriter community in Nashville is so tight-knit and is a special group of people."

Van Hoy relayed the significance of the moment by telling the group about something special that happened as he drove in for the inductee announcement press conference.

"My phone, without me touching it or anything, for some reason just started playing 'Til I Get it Right' by Tammy Wynette, which might have been recorded in this room," he said. "It was like my buddies Red Lane and Larry Henley going, 'Hey buddy, welcome.'"

The five writers will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame during the 53rd anniversary Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at Music City Center. They will join the Hall of Fame's 235 members, which include Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Don Schlitz and Hank Williams.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Onward and upward! The next Mega Millions® drawing on Tuesday, August 8, will flirt with the game’s record jackpot of $1.537 billion, won in South Carolina on October 23, 2018. After no ticket matched all six numbers drawn Friday night – the estimated jackpot rolls to $1.55 billion ($757.2 million cash). With enthusiastic players across the country, many of whom are newcomers to the game, it is indeed likely that there will be a new record Mega Millions jackpot. However, we won’t know for sure until we get closer to Tuesday’s drawing; at this level, jackpots are hard to predict with complete accuracy.

“It’s exciting to watch Mega Millions grow,” said Georgia Lottery President and CEO Gretchen Corbin, lead director of the Mega Millions Consortium. “As the jackpot climbs ever higher, we thank our players and retailers for their support, which benefits the many good causes funded by our participating lotteries.”

Half of the proceeds from the sale of each Mega Millions ticket remains in the state where the ticket was sold, where the money supports designated good causes and retailer commissions.

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