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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 5-10-24


Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for May 10, 2024

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

We start with local news…

School Closed (Press Release)

All Maury County Public Schools will be closed today, Friday, May 10, as clean up from the tragic storms continues. All graduations, after school athletics & performances will occur, unless you are notified by an individual school. The Boys and Girls Club will be open in the following school locations, Mt Pleasant Elementary and Marvin Wright Elementary. In addition, the BGC Wayne Street and Teen Center locations will be open. Twelve-month employees should report if they can do so safely.

Tornado Hits Columbia (CDH)

More than 3,000 people remain without power following Wednesday's powerful EF3 tornado, which resulted in extensive damage in Columbia, including one confirmed fatality.

The National Weather Service, as well as local first responders, estimate the tornado touched down at approximately 5:45 p.m. Wednesday evening along the Bear Creek Pike area in northern Columbia, leaving a path of destruction that amassed to about two miles wide damaging105 homes, 40 of which are considered to be destroyed.

"This was in the area of Blackburn Lane, Lee Road and Lasea Road," Maury County Emergency Management Director Jeff Hardy said. "Bear Creek Pike is back open this morning, though a lot of the side roads are closed, and will remain closed for the foreseeable future."

Maury County first responders were quick to assess the scene, receiving mutual aid from Columbia and other jurisdictions, with many more offering help, if needed.

A press conference was held Thursday morning with more details of the storm, as well as the recovery efforts being made for those affected and/or displaced.

"We have had a long night, but we have an amazing group of people checking in on everyone in our community," Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt said.

Hardy added that in addition to downed trees, power lines and structural damage to homes, the storm also caused a fuel tanker to capsize on U.S. Highway 31 north of Burt Drive and south of Carters Creek Pike.

"We upped our coverage throughout the night, and to address the Nashville Highway incident, we are currently mitigating that, working with a cleanup company," Columbia Fire Chief Chris Cummins said. "We can expect a long day there, and so folks really need to look at alternate routes, because this is going to greatly affect the traffic."

Maury County Fire Deputy Chief Richart Schatz confirmed that Wednesday's storms left one person dead, with about a dozen others reported injured.

"Approximately 12 people were removed from debris, or from wooded areas with the one confirmed fatality," Schatz said. "We had resources from several surrounding counties and municipalities all respond and provide search and rescue teams, as well as additional manpower to the area."

The deceased person has been identified as 67 year old Cheryl Lovett.

By the time Cheryl Lovett received word a tornado was barreling toward her Columbia home, she didn't have time to act, family members said Thursday.

Brooke Helmick, Lovett's niece, said her cousin, Brie Lovett, sent a frantic text message to her mother warning her of the large tornado barreling toward them on Blackburn Lane.

Cheryl and another relative, Penny Lovett, were together.

"Brie was on her way home from work. They got to the church first," Helmick said. "My cousin texted them at like 5:18 p.m., told them they needed to get out."

The two women lived in a mobile home next door to Brie Lovett. There was nowhere safe for them to shelter, Helmick explained. She said her aunt brushed off the warning with a laugh.

"That was the last time they heard from her," Helmick said.

Cheryl Lovett was found about 100 feet from the home. Penny Lovett was found alive, albeit in critical condition, in the field next to their home. She was rushed by helicopter to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for care.

Three others in the path of the tornado were also injured, officials said Wednesday night. Maury County officials have not yet publicly identified any of the victims.

The home Brie Lovett shared with her 18-year-old daughter, set to graduate next week, her brother, his wife and twin babies is gone.

Alisa Helmick, the youngest of four siblings, remembered her older sister well. Cheryl was the third child in the bunch.

"She was a free spirit, a hippy," she said. "She loved animals, nature. She'd go by the creek and hang out with the family all the time."

Cheryl Lovett was also known as a giving person.

Deputy Chief Schatz added that additional, more detailed search and rescue operations were undertaken Thursday.

"A request was made through the Tennessee Mutual Aid system and members from surrounding organizations are responding into the area to conduct secondary searches in conjunction with dog teams, as well to search completely collapsed structures that were checked, but we are going to follow it up with a more detailed search throughout the day," Schatz said.

In addition to ongoing cleanup and rescue, other relief efforts have been put in place for those whose homes might have been damaged.

This includes a shelter with the American Red Cross, which initially opened at Riverside Elementary School on Wednesday, but later moved to West 7th Church of Christ, 405 W. 7th St. on Thursday, where it will remain operational.

Monetary donations are also being accepted to help those in need. These can be made using cash or check at the Maury County Trustee's Office, 1 Public Square, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. A website has also been set up for debit or credit card donations.

The Maury County Animal Shelter, 1233 Mapleash Ave., is also offering shelter for displaced pets.

The Maury County Sheriff's Department is also available to report any missing persons at (931) 388-5151.

Maury County Office of Emergency Management is also requesting no volunteers to help at this time due to safety reasons, but will likely welcome them at a later time, Hardy said.

"That will come in the near future over the coming days," Hardy said. "We've got a lot of first responders in the area and are asking our folks to give them space, give them time to do what they do, and then in the future we will take volunteers."

Thursday's press conference also included words from state and local leaders recognizing the efforts of not only local responders, but the many others who pitched in during Columbia's time of need.

"This was a multi-agency response so far with a lot of help, lot of help from the state and surrounding counties, and so I'd like to say thank you to those folks as we continue to mitigate these instances and our damage assessments," Cummins said.

Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) described the incident as a "tragedy" for the community but also an example of several entities working together in a time of crisis.

"Tragedy has befallen our county overnight, but I'll tell you this, the volunteer spirit is alive and well in Tennessee," Cepicky said. "The outpouring of support across the state wanting to help our citizens in need right now has been overwhelming. Law enforcement and emergency responders all working together, coming together so quickly to provide help to those who need it the most has just been an impressive thing to watch."

Mayor Chaz Molder added that having mutual aid ready to help out during an incident like this is something to always be grateful for. And that while having help at the ready is a good thing, having the resources right at home gives him comfort that Columbia will see itself through this.

"Whenever anyone in our community is affected, we are all affected," Molder said. "I've heard from mayors all across the state of Tennessee offering to lend a hand, offering to deploy resources if necessary. Fortunately, right now I think we're going to be okay, though there will be a long recovery and people in need, but I think from a community/infrastructure standpoint we have the adequate resources."

Governor Lee and wife, Maria visited Maury County, met with officials and toured the damaged areas.

"There has been heartache from one side of the state to the other, and Maury County was the hardest hit spot, with significant flooding across the state," Lee said. "We wanted to meet out with the first responders, meet with the families and meet with the people that are intersecting this tragedy that has happened across our state."

Accompanying Lee on Thursday were Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Director Patrick Sheehan and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Butch Eley.

Sheehan said TEMA will continue working over the next few weeks to conduct a more detailed damage assessment.

"We will be working with the mayors and other community leaders here moving forward," Sheehan said. "We are just glad to see the community come together and do a tremendous amount of work to support each other already. For those standing by and waiting for help, TDOT and TEMA will be putting out information about how to help, where to help and I encourage those with a heart to help to look at Maury County."

Mt. Pleasant City Manager (MSM)

The Mount Pleasant City Commission held a special called meeting last Tuesday, April 30 in which they offered a contract to current Fire Chief Phillip Grooms to become the next city manager.

On April 16, the city had announced its decision to move forward with Steven Cross, a Fire Management Consultant with the state’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service. However, Cross later declined the offer after reviewing the terms in the contract.

Commissioner Pam Johnston, who made the initial motion to select Cross, said she felt Cross’ requested salary was too much.

“I said in my conversation with him that his salary I felt was excessive and I felt if he really wanted to be here that he should have some grace and humility in that,” Johnston said.

The commission had the option of either reoffering the position to Cross or reopening the application process.

Commissioner Mike Davis made a motion to open the position back up, which failed 3-2.

“I appreciate Phillip and everything he has done for our city, but I have some problems,” Davis said. “I know we’ve had one commissioner, maybe more, that said Phillip was not qualified. In people saying he’s not qualified, maybe it does need to be reopened.”

Johnston said her opinion of Grooms’ qualifications changed after meeting with him.

“In the process of meeting with him after that statement, I have been really blown away by the level of his knowledge of the city,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely vital with an election coming up that we keep continuity with our city and we have people in place that know what’s happening.”

Commissioner Willie Alderson made a motion to offer Grooms a contract, which passed 4-1. Those who voted in favor included Alderson, Johnston, Mayor Bill White and Vice-Mayor Jacqueline Grandberry. Davis was the sole no vote.

Johnston later made a motion to accept the contract as presented, which passed 3-2. Those who voted against were Grandberry and Davis.

The contract includes a salary of $134,000, which was increased from the listed $120,000.

Current City Manager Kate Collier said she has agreed to cut her hours in half and stay for a short period of time in order to assist with the transition.

“It’s absolutely not fair to anybody to not have some direction moving forward with $19 million worth of grants on the table,” Collier said. “I’m trying to leave, so I’m not going to be hanging on here for a long time.”

If Grooms accepts the contract, which begins July 1, an interim fire chief would be chosen to fill his position for one year, which is the length of his contract. If the city is not satisfied with Grooms’ performance or if he does not want to remain as city manager, Grooms would have the option to go back to being fire chief.


Maury Regional Receives an “A” from Leapfrog (MSM)

Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) earned an “A” Hospital Safety Grade, the highest possible ranking, for the spring of 2024 from The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit watchdog.

Leapfrog assigns an “A,” “B,” “C,” “D” or “F” grade to general hospitals across the country based on over 30 measures of errors, accidents, injuries and infections, as well as the systems hospitals have in place to prevent them. 

“I’m extremely grateful for all Maury Regional Medical Center staff members who consistently show their commitment to patient safety, which makes this recognition possible,” said Maury Regional Health CEO Martin Chaney, MD. “This acknowledgement from The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade is a direct reflection of the diligence our employees and medical staff have when caring for patients.”

The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade is the only hospital ratings program focused exclusively on preventable medical errors, infections and injuries that kill more than 500 patients a day nationally. The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade is peer-reviewed, fully transparent and free to the public. Grades are updated twice annually, in the fall and spring.

“Everyone who works at Maury Regional Medical Center should be proud of this ‘A’ Hospital Safety Grade,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “It takes complete dedication of at every level, and an ironclad commitment to putting patients first. I thank Maury Regional Medical Center, its leadership, clinicians, staff and volunteers for caring so deeply for its patients and their safety.”

To learn more about MRMC’s commitment to quality — including accreditations, certifications and recognitions — visit Visit for more information about the Hospital Safety Grade, including details on individual hospital grades and rankings.

(Jane Doe Identified (Press Release)

The Maury County Sheriff’s office yesterday, announced that the identity of a Jane Doe from a missing person case from the 1970’s has been identified through the use of modern DNA science.

On February 14, 1975 two hunters found skeletal remains on Joe Brown Road in eastern Maury County near I-65. Forensic examination in 1975 by Dr. William Bass at the University of Tennessee, Department of Anthropology determined that the remains were that of a black female between the age of 17-21. The remains have been stored at the University of Tennessee, Department of Anthropology in Knoxville, Tennessee since that time.

Over the years the case has been looked at many times, DNA samples have been taken and examined but no clues to the identity were ever discovered.

In 2012 Lt. Jerry Williams (retired) began looking at the case again and revived efforts to identify the remains. He had more forensic tests done and re-interviewed as many people as possible. Many people that were connected to the case in 1975 are now deceased. Numerous tips and leads were chased of missing persons that fit the description but nothing matched.

In 2019 the Maury County Sheriff’s Department began working with DNA Doe Project. DNA Doe Project is a volunteer driven non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with the mission to identify John and Jane Does and return them to their families. Their donors provided funding for new DNA testing and research by Genetic Genealogists to start work on tracing the genealogy of Jane Doe. It took the efforts of four labs over three years to successfully create a DNA profile which was uploaded to in 2022. A distant match was found of a possible relative and the family tree began to build. Volunteer Genetic Genealogists spent more than 530 hours building the family tree.

In April 2024 DNA Doe Project provided a potential sibling. After making contact with the sibling the Sheriff’s office was able to confirm that she was a full sibling by DNA match. The matching person relayed that she had a sister that went missing in the fall of 1974 but was never officially reported as missing. Her sister was a black female, 19 years old. The family had been searching for her since that time. All other siblings are accounted for.

It has been determined through DNA that the remains are that of 19 year old Annie Carolyn Jenkins of Memphis, Tennessee. She had been visiting with relatives in Chicago and in the fall of 1974 she left Chicago on a flight bound for Tennessee. This was the last known contact with her family. Her remains were recovered in Maury County in February 1975.

Her remains will be returned to her family who have been searching for her for 49 years.

This remains an open homicide investigation.

Sheriff Bucky Rowland would like to extend his thanks to Detective Keith Wrather, Lt. Jerry Williams (retired), Gina Wrather, Genetic Genealogist, and all the other’s that have worked on this case over the years since 1975 and his special thanks to DNA Doe Project, their volunteers and donors who made this identification possible.

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

Ty David Smithson, 33, resident of Spring Hill, died unexpectedly Sunday, May 5, 2024 in Williamson County.

Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, May 11, 2024 at 4:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home with Pastor Eric Nichols officiating. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 12:00 P.M. till the time of service at the funeral home. Condolences may be extended online at

Kenneth P. Lord III, 81, resident of Williamsport, passed away on May 1, 2024.

A Memorial Service will be conducted Saturday, May 18, 2024 at 2:00 PM at Williamsport United Methodist Church. Burial will follow in Williamsport Cemetery with Military Honors provided by the U.S. Army. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 1:00 P.M. until the time of service at the Church.

…And now, news from around the state…

Rutherford School Director’s Son, Storm Victim (Tennessean)

Rutherford County Schools Director James "Jimmy" Sullivan provided new details Thursday about the injuries his 10-year-old son sustained during Wednesday's storm.

The boy, whom the director identified as Asher in a social media post, was playing with other children in the water that had accumulated in the street while neighbors gathered to begin the cleanup process when somehow, he "got caught in the storm drain and was swept under the neighborhood streets.

"He eventually came out in a drainage ditch, and CPR was administered for quite some time. His heartbeat was reestablished, but the damage is substantial," Sullivan wrote in the post. Asher was taken first to Ascension, and then to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the post noted.

"His lungs are severely damaged, and he is not showing much brain activity outside of muscle jerks," Sullivan wrote. "Specially, pray for healing for his lungs and most importantly brain activity to occur.

"Asher needs a miracle."

Rutherford County Schools scheduled a prayer vigil for the Sullivan family at 2 p.m. by the front door of the district's central office, 2240 Southpark Drive, Murfreesboro, district spokesman James Evans announced.

"There has been an outpouring of love and support from the community for Director Jimmy Sullivan, his family and specifically for his 10-year-old son, Asher," Evans said. "We've had many requests for people who want to assist, but what the family truly needs right now is tons of prayers."

Like most of Middle Tennessee, storms impacted much of Rutherford County Wednesday, leading schools to shut down Thursday due of flooding.

There were also several areas without electricity and several trees down, mainly in the Eagleville and Christiana areas, Evans told parents Wednesday night

Evans also apologized for the district's Thursday closure, but called it "unavoidable."

The spokesman's communication to parents Wednesday night also confirmed that Sullivan's son was injured during the storms and reported that Asher was in stable but critical condition.

"We ask that you please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers," Evans said.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

This Mother's Day weekend get some last-minute gift shopping done at The Factory.

Take Mom out for a day of shopping at The Factory at Columbia, 101 N. James M. Campbell Blvd., for this month's Second Saturday bazaar.

Second Saturday will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and feature a plethora of vendors, artisans and pop-up shops. And this is in addition to the variety of unique businesses and eateries The Factory has to offer.

Live music will include Cave Street Band. You might even take home a new furry family member at the event's Freedom Journey Dog Adoption.

For more information about The Factory, to apply as a vendor, as well as other upcoming events, visit


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