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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for January 3, 2024

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

We start with local news…

Car Crash (

First responders in Columbia were able to quickly respond to a vehicle accident Monday night after receiving an "iPhone crash notification."

The Maury County Fire Department says it happened overnight on Frye Road. Crews arrived and found a car in the creek.

"Squad 12 arrived in the area and found the occupant out of the vehicle on the roadway. Units checked for leaks and retrieved a few items for the owner."

Apple's crash detection senses a "severe car crash" and helps connect emergency responders to the location.

It's unclear what caused the crash, or if anyone was hurt.

Spring Hill Fire (MauryCountySource)

Fireworks are believed to be the cause of a house fire in Spring Hill on Sunday.

Spring Hill Fire Department responded to a house fire just after 11 p.m. in the Cobblestone Subdivision. The homeowner noticed the fire and called 911 and was able to get his family out safely.

Crews arrived and confined the fire to the garage and attic areas. The fire was ignited by used fireworks disposed of in a trashcan. A grass fire was also extinguished to protect a neighboring house.

Columbia Fire & Rescue, Maury County Fire, Williamson County Fire-Rescue, Williamson EMS, SHPD, Williamson & Maury Ecoms and Middle Tennessee Electric all responded.

As a safety reminder, always ensure fireworks have been completely extinguished before disposal.

Fireman Falls (MSM)

A Maury County firefighter was saved by his partner after falling through the floor of a burning home on Monsanto Road on Dec. 19.

Upon arrival of the home, located just outside of Columbia, firefighters observed heavy fire on one side of the home, multiple cars, and a walker on the front porch.

“They had reason to believe that someone was possibly still inside,” Maury County Deputy Fire Chief Richey Schatz said. “They forced entry into the house and started advancing a hose line in.”

Once the home was deemed to be clear of any occupants, firefighters began knocking down the main body of fire.

“One of the firefighters went through the floor, and due to the way his legs were in the floor, he was trapped and unable to get out,” Schatz said. “He did have some areas of fire coming from underneath.”

It was then that the unnamed firefighter was saved by his partner, who was able to pull him back through the floor. No injuries were reported during the incident. However, Schatz said two other firefighters received minor injuries through their protective clothing during the initial attack, but did not require transport to the hospital.

The fire is currently under investigation by fire investigators through the Maury County Sheriff’s Office. Schatz said such investigations are routine, and so far nothing has been deemed suspicious.

MuleDrop 2024 (MSM)

Maury County rang in the new year Sunday by lowering the metal mule head from high above the courthouse square in Columbia, thanks again to the work put in by Center of Hope.

Center of Hope Director, Cindy Sims, has been working tirelessly following the opening of a new shelter for Center of Hope to make sure the 2024 Mule Drop was another successful event.

Beginning at 8 p.m. on the square with live music, the free event is annually open to the public throughout the night into early morning, and Sims said the event has something for every family dynamic.

“If you have young children and you just want to go and enjoy some things, countdown and go home, you can,” she said, as there will be a countdown at every hour. “The big countdown is at midnight with fireworks from the roof of the courthouse.

“We were really excited about the fireworks this year because there was something new,” she said. “And if you enjoyed the music last year, you’ll certainly enjoy this year’s,” Sims said.

The event is a fundraiser for the Center of Hope shelter, which supports victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking.

“We are the local domestic violence and sexual assault center. We have been serving Maury County for the last 34 years, and in 2018 we picked up Lawrence, Giles and Wayne counties,” Sims added. “Domestic violence and sexual assault knows no barriers. It can happen to the wealthiest and the poorest of people and any race or belief system.”

Each year, sponsors and vendors help support their mission through this event.

“We had ax throwing, cornhole and a cigar lounge to go along with the food trucks and other vendors,” Sims said. “We have the greatest community in the world, and we couldn’t do it without our sponsors and BMC Metalworks, who created the apparatus that is dropped by Industrial Contractors.”

Parks Retires From MRMC Board (Press Release)

Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) Board of Trustees Chair Houston Parks retired on Jan. 1 following 15 years of service, the past six as board chair.

The Columbia native is a longtime local attorney who most recently has been in private practice at the law firm Parks, Bryant and Snyder, PLLC.

“It’s been a pleasure serving this community and organization as a member of the MRMC Board of Trustees,” Parks said. “This health system is a tremendous benefit to the communities we serve, and I’m proud of how it’s grown and the vision that’s in place for the future.”

Under Parks’ leadership, Maury Regional Health (MRH) has accomplished many endeavors, including:

Expansion of MRMC’s surgical services to include:

Two daVinci robotic platforms for general, gynecologic, urologic and thoracic surgery

Stryker’s Mako robotic system for joint replacements

The 7D Surgical Flash Navigation System for spinal and cranial surgery

The opening of a state-of-the-art Cancer Center at Columbia Mall

Installation of advanced imaging systems, including 128-slice CTs, PET and 3D mammography

In addition, the health system has received numerous awards and accreditations as a reflection of its commitment to clinical excellence and patient safety.

“Houston’s experience, legal expertise and business acumen have been instrumental in our success, and I am immensely grateful for his service,” said MRH CEO Martin Chaney, MD.

The MRMC Board of Trustees will elect a new chair and announce other board appointments at its Jan. 25, 2024, meeting.

Blood Needed (MauryCountySource)

As Blood Assurance prepares for the new year, the community blood center is asking residents to donate the gift of life to close out this season of giving.

Entering Friday morning, the nonprofit was in critical need of all blood types, especially O-positive, and O-negative. Additionally, platelet donations were urgently needed.

“December and January are always detrimental for community blood centers due to holiday travel, frigid weather, and illnesses, such as the flu,” according to J.B. Gaskins, CEO of Blood Assurance. “Blood Assurance has faced some enormous challenges in the weeks leading up to the new year, including supplying a large quantity of additional blood units to hospitals in Middle Tennessee, treating patients with injuries sustained during the deadly tornadoes.”

The call for donations comes on the heels of National Blood Donor Month. The month of January marks the 54th anniversary of National Blood Donor Month. Enacted in January 1970 by President Richard Nixon, the proclamation pays tribute to voluntary blood donors, while encouraging new donors to give the gift of life.

“Our non-profit is still experiencing one of the largest shortages we’ve seen in five decades,” said Gaskins. “We hope our community understands the importance of donating before, during and after National Blood Donor Month, by recognizing that blood isn’t something that can be manufactured. A single blood donation can save three lives.”

Donors can give back by scheduling an appointment at, calling 800- 962-0628, or texting BAGIVE to 999777. 

Courthouse Commemorating 120 Years (Press Release)

Maury County Government has been awarded a $5,000 matching grant from the South Central Tennessee Development District.

The Arts Build Communities, or “ABC,” grant will help the county commemorate the historic Maury County Courthouse as it celebrates 120 years of service to the community in 2024.

The grant will fund a community juried art competition open to Maury County citizens of all ages.

According to a press release, the theme will focus on "What does the courthouse represent to its citizens?" Citizens are invited to use their artistic abilities to design an original piece of art (all genres are welcome) that interprets what the Maury County Courthouse means.

“The Maury County Courthouse is an iconic and historic structure for the state of Tennessee.”

“Built by local architect J.E.R. Carpenter, before he went on to great fame as one of the leading architects of luxury high-rise living in New York City, this building has been the central focus of Maury county since it was built in 1904. It symbolizes much to our community. This grant is a wonderful opportunity to allow the citizens of the county to interpret and express what the building represents.”

The contest will start with a commemoration ceremony honoring the courthouse, which will include a proclamation by Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt, followed by an overview focusing on the history of the Maury County Courthouse by me, Tom Price starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan 11.

Maury County citizens will have from Jan. 11 to March 22 to submit their artwork to the Maury County Archives' temporary location at 1446 Oak Springs Drive, Suite 100 (the far end of Muletown Rec).

Art will be juried in four age categories: elementary, secondary, high school and adults ages 18 and over. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place for each category, and one grand-prize winner will be announced during Mule Day on April 6, 2024.

Rules for artist submissions include:

Artwork must be original.

All art intended for wall-mounting (drawings/paintings etc.) in the 18+ category must be submitted in a frame and wired for hanging.

All submitted art must be accompanied by a card with the artist's name, contact information, category, title and medium.

All art must be submitted by 3 p.m. Friday, March 22.

Art will be juried by five esteemed artists which include local photographers Sarah Gilliam and Ross Jaynes, as well as painters James Spearman and Margaret Warfield and sculptor Jennifer Grisham.

The winning submissions will be displayed at the courthouse during the 2024 Mule Day festivities. All submitted artwork will be placed on display at the Pryor Art Gallery at Columbia State Community College from May 13th-June 14th. The exhibit will open with be a gallery reception on May 13th.

For more information about the contest, contact the Maury County Archives at (931) 375-1500.

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

Mr. Johnny N. Wooten, 86, born in Bartow, FL and a resident of Columbia, TN passed away on December 7. Visitation for Mr. Wooten will be held at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home in Columbia, TN on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, from 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. A memorial service will follow on Saturday, January 6, 2024, at 10;00 Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Johnny will be laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery.

Mr. William “Bill” Joseph Hossbach, 80, resident of Columbia, and retired Lab Analyst for Swarco, passed away on December 28 at his residence. A Celebration of Life will be held at Central Christian Church on Saturday, January 6 from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.

Mrs. Vickie Lynn Love Knight, 79, a lifelong resident of Columbia, and retired Property Underwriting Vice President for Farm Bureau, passed away peacefully Monday, December 25 at her residence. A private graveside service will be scheduled at a later date. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.

…And now, news from around the state…

Respiratory Ailments Up (Tennessean)

This year's holiday season has left Tennessee with a lingering hangover — a sharp rise in respiratory illnesses. The increase has led to Nashville clinics and hospital emergency departments routinely filled with patients with COVID-19 and influenza.

Tennessee and the rest of the South are now reporting "high" or "very high" levels of flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Volunteer State is now at that highest level of flu activity, with a 12% increase in related outpatient visits in the final days of December, according to the CDC and the Tennessee Department of Health. At least one Tennessee child from an undisclosed part of the state has died from the virus, the state Department of Health reported.

Meanwhile, new cases of COVID-19 have been rising in Tennessee since October. As of Dec. 24, the most recent data available, more than 460 hospitalized patients were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Of those, 63 received treatment in intensive care units, according to that report. Those are the highest numbers since early March.

"We're definitely seeing a significant number of individuals coming in with upper respiratory symptoms — you know, nasal congestion, sore throats, cough, muscle aches, fever as well," said Dr. Tyler Barrett, executive medical director for emergency services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "We're still seeing a bit of COVID but nothing like we were seeing several years ago. Most of the patients I've seen in our (ER) with symptoms haven't been vaccinated."

Additionally, confirmed Respiratory syncytial virus cases are at their highest numbers statewide in more than a year. RSV is potentially dangerous for young children and older adults with chronic diseases and/or compromised immune systems.

Nationally, the number of flu vaccine doses administered was at its lowest level in five years, as of mid-December, CDC data show. As of Dec. 9, 17% of adults 60 and older had been inoculated against RSV, the CDC reported. That's the same percentage of Americans who have received the latest COVID-19 booster vaccine (in Tennessee, it's only 10.6%).

Physicians say this year's strains of respiratory illnesses aren't, generally, particularly more dangerous than those in previous years. This is certainly the case with COVID-19, whose current strains aren't killing and/or hospitalizing patients at rates even close to the peak, 2021 season.

Still, RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations. A new treatment developed to protect them has been in short supply this year.

"We encourage those who are concerned about RSV to reach out to their primary care provider for specified guidance on vaccination," said Matthew Peters, spokesman for the Metro Nashville Public Health Department. "Beyond vaccination, mitigation practices like staying home when sick, washing hands and covering coughs can help the community mitigate the effects of respiratory illnesses this season."

A vaccine for pregnant women, which can protect their eventual newborns, is widely available, however. So too are flu shots and the latest COVID-19 booster. The website can help people find convenient locations to get them.

Lauren Taylor, an emergency room physician for Ascension Saint Thomas hospitals in Nashville, said she's treated as at least as many COVID-19 patients as influenza patients this season. In both cases, the un-boosted and unvaccinated have tended to be more severe, Taylor said.

"Things often surge after the holidays because people are congregating, and so contagious illnesses spread quickly. And that's what I think we're seeing now," she said. "But I don't think the severity of the (COVID) illnesses is as bad as 2020, 2021."

LONG - MTSU Gets Triceratops (Tennessean)

In the 14 years Middle Tennessee State University geosciences professor Alan Brown and the Earth Experience Museum team have been making the journey to Baish Ranch in Montana to hunt for dinosaur bones, they have found many triceratops fossils.

But never a skull.

“As far as dinosaurs, (Triceratops are) very common, but any skull is going to be kind of rare,” Brown said.

But in the summer of 2023, that changed.

The rancher, Shana Baish, came across a Triceratops skull on the property not long before Brown and his team visited. 

“When we were there this summer, I said that, you know, I’m hoping someday the museum can get a Triceratops skull. And she said, ‘Well, here’s one you can dig up.’”

The triceratops skull, which made its way to Murfreesboro in September, was exposed on the ranch property. The horns and nose have mostly worn away, but the rest was still buried and is intact.

The Earth Experience Museum is the first museum of natural history in Middle Tennessee, located in Murfreesboro.

The museum volunteers are still unpacking the skull and working the rock away, a process that could take anywhere from eight months to a year and a half.

“I’m too busy,” Brown said. “I don’t get to play on the cool things anymore, so Joe is actually in charge of the Triceratops skull.”

Joe Nochera is a retiree that moved to Nashville and had some “experience doing fossil stuff,” according to Brown. He heads up the skull work, along with Mandi O’Grady and Fischer Touchton.

The team cuts away a small piece of the casing, made of aluminum foil and plaster, to uncover a section of the fossil. Then they begin the intricate process of chipping away rock from the surface, taking care to avoid damaging the fossil itself.

The skull, according to Brown, is approximately 66 million years old.

“Microscopically, in the limb bones of dinosaurs, they add actual layers on the outer part of it, kind of like a tree ring, but it’s only in the outer couple millimeters,” Brown said.

There are no limb bones to accompany the Triceratops skull though, so there is no way to judge its age or when it died.

While in Montana, Brown and his team spend a lot of time wandering around looking at the ground, he said.

“Individual dinosaur bones are pretty common. We probably find about one a day when we’re out there in Montana.

“Paleontologists have been searching for dinosaur bones now for like 150 years, and so we kind of know the good places to go,” Brown said.

Out west just so happens to be dinosaur central. For a dead animal to fossilize, it must be buried, otherwise it will just decompose and turn back into soil.

During the time of the dinosaurs, the Rocky Mountains were forming. As the range was pushing toward the sky, sediment was washing down off the young mountains, burying things.

“If you trace down the Rocky Mountains from Canada all the way down into Mexico, you’re going to find dinosaurs,” said Brown.

A section of the Andes Mountains in South America was also forming around the same time, so there are quite a few fossils in that area as well.

But not all mountain ranges are fossil mines. The Appalachian Mountains formed long before dinosaurs roamed the earth and were already halfway worn away by the time dinosaurs were traversing them. The Himalayas are far too young and formed after dinosaurs went extinct.

The Earth Experience Museum opened in 2014. Located on Old Salem Hwy., the museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Admission is $9 for ages 12 and up, $7 for ages 4-11, and free for children 3 years old and under.

There are countless exhibits, from a full-size T-Rex cast named Frank—"You're not going to find another one within ... 400 miles," said Brown—to fossils of small dinosaurs that prove the animals had feathers. You can see the Triceratops skull on display as it is being uncovered, but it will not be complete for several months to come.

SHORT - McNally to Miss First Weeks of Legislation (WPLN)

Following doctor’s orders, Tennessee Senate Speaker Randy McNally will miss the first few weeks of the legislative session while he recovers from ankle surgery. Second-in-line Sen. Ferrell Haile will preside over floor sessions.    

McNally has been in a cast for months now, so the ankle surgery wasn’t unexpected. And without him at the start of session, things should run as usual, especially given that the first few weeks of session are pretty light in comparison to the later months.

The speaker’s absence isn’t out of the ordinary. There are times during most sessions when he must be out for various reasons. Last year, McNally had to miss a floor session to have a pacemaker installed due to an irregular heartbeat.

Thanks to modern technology, McNally says he will be monitoring proceedings remotely and will be in constant contact with leadership.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The first big Powerball jackpot has already happened for 2024.

A lucky Michigan ticket buyer started the new year with a big win after Monday night's drawing, walking away with a jackpot worth $842.4 million. The cash value? $425.2 million.

Originally, Powerball estimated the jackpot would only hit $810 million, but a surge of ticket buyers pushed it to the fifth-largest Powerball prize ever and moved it into the top 10 highest lottery jackpots of all time.

Even if you didn't win big, don't throw out your ticket just yet. Nationwide, the Powerball drawing produced more than 1.8 million winning tickets, according to Powerball.


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