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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 5-3-24

WKOM/WKRM Radio

Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for May 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…


Randolph Howell Principal Shakeup (MSM)

Randolph Howell Elementary STEM School has undergone a shakeup in leadership after the sudden departure of its principal and assistant principal.

Principal Dr. Michael Ford announced his resignation on Thursday, April 25, two days after being suspended by Maury County Public Schools. In addition, Assistant Principal Beth Hamilton announced her retirement, effective immediately, on Friday, April 26.

In a statement, MCPS Superintendent Lisa Ventura stated, “The Principal of Randolph Howell Elementary School was suspended pending investigation on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. Maury County Public Schools received his resignation on Thursday, April 25, 2024. Specifics regarding personnel matters will not be discussed or disclosed.”

MCPS officials declined to discuss the reason for the departures or the reason for the investigation of Ford. Unconfirmed reports have claimed the suspension was linked to manipulation of test scores.

Ventura sent a letter to Howell parents, dated May 2 and posted on the school’s Facebook page, which stated in part, “All state mandated assessments, TCAP/TNReady, for all grades tested at RHESS have been successfully submitted to the state for scoring. There is NO truth to rumors regarding any student being forced to retake any state assessment due to this investigation.”

Dean of Students Kristen Morjal has been named as the acting principal at Howell Elementary until a new principal is named. Ventura’s letter concluded with, “I will be making an announcement regarding new leadership at RHESS very soon.”

City Unveils Artistic Crosswalk (CDH)

Columbia Arts Council has unveiled its first artistic crosswalk within the city's arts district, with city leaders describing the project as "a vibrant testament to the local talent and the city's thriving arts scene." 

This project, originally pitched by the Columbia Arts Council in 2019, was partially funded by an Arts Build Communities (ABC) Grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

The idea for the project was to "bring a splash of color and creativity to the heart of Columbia," according to a press release.

The new crosswalk is located at the intersection of South Garden and Depot Streets and was created by local artist Whitney Herrington.

Herrington has been a staunch advocate for local Maury County arts for many years, both as a teacher and creating multiple murals and public art pieces throughout the region, including the "Mule Queen" on East 6th Street, "Muletown Gothic on West 7th St. and the "Columbia Mural" on North Garden Street. Her South Garden/Depot crosswalk is being called "Patchwork Pathway."

“I am honored to be the artist behind this project. Having the opportunity to add art pieces to our budding arts community makes my heart full and hopeful for the future of the district,” Herrington commented.  “This project was inspired by quilt blocks and Turkish tile designs. It connects our city with the colorful arts district. The crosswalk entices pedestrians to crossover into the arts district and see what hidden gems can be found.”

The crosswalk's location is also significant, given it is where the city's recent South Garden Street streetscape project was completed, providing a greater visual aesthetic while drivers and pedestrians enter the arts district. This also included creating stations for future public art, upgrading the sidewalks, parking spaces and providing a great location to christen the artistic crosswalk project.

"This artistic crosswalk, a first in our community, is a vibrant symbol of Columbia's commitment to the arts," said Mayor Chaz Molder. "It's a testament to the power of public art to transform our spaces and ignite creativity within our community. How fortunate we are to have both talented artists and supportive corporate partners right here in our own backyard."

Molder added that he hopes that, while celebrating the first artistic crosswalk is a great accomplishment and a step forward for the arts district's continued progress, he's looking forward for more opportunities like this to come.

"We're grateful to the Tennessee Arts Commission for this grant opportunity which helped bring the first, but hopefully not our last, artistic crosswalk to Columbia," Molder said. "Thanks to local artist Whitney Herrington for her colorful design and artistic abilities, to Swarco, Inc. for their contribution to the project, and our Public Works Department who always answers the call of creative service."

Artistic crosswalks have become a staple in many communities, aiming to provide certain benefits beyond creating a visually appealing addition to the places people gather.

It's also the kind of project that isn't accomplished alone.

"An eye-catching crosswalk like this is more than just a place to cross the street; it's a canvas for artistic exploration and an invitation to engage with art in a new and interactive way," the City of Columbia press release states. "Beyond the talented artist and the vital grant funding, the city of Columbia would like to recognize and thank the other local partners it took to complete this project including the Columbia Arts Council, Swarco, and Columbia Public Works.

"This artistic endeavor helps foster a deeper appreciation for the arts, spark creativity in everyone, and further establish Columbia as a cultural hub in Tennessee. So next time you're strolling through the Columbia Arts District, take a moment to experience the vibrant new crosswalk and let it ignite your imagination."

Hickman For The Duck Calls for Action (Press Release)

The non-profit “Hickman County for the Duck” is calling on Governor Bill Lee to provide leadership and help in protecting the Duck River from potential overconsumption.

In a press release and accompanying letter to the governor, Douglas E. Jones of “Hickman County for the Duck” cited the recent designation for the Duck River as the third most endangered river in America by the American River Association.

The letter states that on March 15, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation approved Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit NRS23.288, allowing Columbia Power and Water Systems to withdraw 32 million gallons of water per day from the Duck River at the border of Maury and Hickman Counties. “This amount of withdrawal alone is detrimental, however, there are also six other permits pending to remove higher volumes of water from the Duck,” the release states.

It continues, “The Duck River reaches “drought level” every summer. During this time, the Duck River in Hickman County resembles a creek more so than a river. There are currently 18 endangered species in the Duck River in Hickman County. There have been no scientific studies conducted showing how these species will be protected when Columbia Power and Water Systems drains this portion of the Duck River,” the release concludes.

In the letter sent to Governor Lee, Jones states, “Your leadership as Governor is urgently needed to save and preserve the Duck River from excessive withdrawal permits which have been requested to support new industry and development. Jobs, housing, and development are important, but must not come at the expense of this important river. Growth must be balanced with preservation of the beauty and resources which draw people to Tennessee.

Please act now before it is too late. Convene a working group to provide technical expertise on water management and conservation of the Duck River. Direct TDEC to develop a comprehensive watershed plan for the Duck River to manage its long-term and sustainable use, proactively; and fund much-needed scientific studies to understand the flow needs of this river. These are the recommendations of the American Rivers Association and are a reasonable pathway to find solutions.”

Besides the governor, the letter was also sent to three state senators, five state representatives as well as Commissioner David Salyer of the Tennessee DEC.

Former Addict Now Counselor (CDH)

When Chris Peach arrived at A Place of Hope several years ago, he didn’t plan on finding a home, much less a life calling and purpose.

He just wanted to get clean.

Today, Peach is still at the facility, but this time as a counselor guiding others.

Founded by Mike Coupe and family, Place of Hope celebrated its 24th anniversary as a substance abuse treatment center on April 20.

The 64-bed facility serves adult men and women dealing with issues of alcoholism, addiction, co-occurring disorders and homelessness. In the building of the former Bel-Air Nursing Home, Place of Hope is located at 105 N. James Campbell Blvd.

Peach's path is moving full circle, as so many before him – who have a renewed purpose in helping others who also suffered.

Peach is now working toward his Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor certification on-site at Place of Hope with the help of onsite training.

Clients at the center who complete a period of transition living and return to work and regular life, have the option of becoming a peer counselor or go further to pursue licensure or certification in drug and alcohol counseling.

Coupe pioneered the recovery center by using a whole-life recovery approach, offering free, faith-based counseling, at the state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment facility, which he has lead this for almost a quarter of a decade.

The result is a safe place for clients to heal.

Place Of Hope is home now for Peach as it has been for others in the past who have received in-patient treatment.

“Both my parents were alcoholics, growing up,” Peach said. “As a little boy all I would see is a lot of arguing and fighting. You don’t really know what alcoholism is until you get older.”

Peach recounts that he was consistently exposed to the chaos of physical and emotional abuse.

“Sometimes I would get a whipping just because my dad was drunk,” Peach said. “I didn’t understand. What did I do wrong? That went on for a long time.”

Peach said he turned to comfort in many ways, one being his experience with eating to mask emotions he was facing.

“I drifted in with the wrong crowd, started stealing my parents’ cigarettes and began dabbling in marijuana. It was that gateway for me,” Peach said.

“As time went on, I got into harder stuff,” he said. “And with meth, I tell people I was addicted before I ever tried it. It was my motivation, my social lubricant. It made me have that 10-feet tall and bulletproof feeling.”

He blamed his parents for the longest time, made excuses, he said as he reflected on times when he was in and out of jail.

“It started off fun,” Peach said. “But it ended with me miserable with or without it.”

However, his journey was just beginning.

It was at the annual Place of Hope tent revival that Peach said he stopped running and surrendered for the first time.

It was under that tent among local church ministers prayers of hope that he said he received his “spiritual awakening," which led to a path of true recovery.

He describes his new purpose as "directed by God," which became his "number one motivator in life."

Peach describes his "personal miracle" as the total loss of desire for the drugs that once controlled his existence.

Peach isn’t the only one who has made the most of recovery and continued their involvement in helping others with the same struggles.

“One of our current board members got sober the first year we were open,” Coupe said. “He’s been sober ever since.”

That board member is today also, Maury County Commissioner Gary Stovall, who shared his own story, saying thanks to Coupe and the help of Place Of Hope, he has seen more than 30 years of sobriety.

In these earliest days, Coupe said the economic environment was different for treating people with substance abuse addiction.

Coupe, himself has 47 years of continuous sobriety and has been professionally helping others to do the same for the majority of that time. Starting out as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor at Maury Regional Medical Center in 1988, he pioneered an approach to treating those who suffered from addiction, a program that lasted for about 10 years.

“Healthcare reimbursement was different,” said Coupe. “The administration came to us after 10 years and said you all have done a great job, but we can make more money using these beds for something else.”

The impact was huge to their bottom line, Coupe explained.

“So there were no hard feelings there, but what it did was make me even more aware of the need for treatment here in Maury County.”

The 28-day treatment plan, which would become par for the course in many other treatment centers around the nation was an insurance reimbursement limitation.

This time may work for some, but Coupe says there is nothing particularly magical that happens after that 28th day. 

It was this first barrier that Coupe abandoned in favor of a longer, more long-term effective care plan that Place Of Hope still engages to help others today.

Some clients at Place of Hope today, stay a year or longer. Some stay long enough to become a permanent staff member, like Peach.

Entering the center more than five years ago, Peach says he credits his redirected life to God and the Coupe family in steering him on the path he's on now.

He has also made amends with his parents today and maintains a positive relationship with his dad, who he said is also doing much better these days.

Peach is currently a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist on track to receive his full Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor certificate to continue helping others at Place of Hope, continuing its legacy in Maury County to any who would reach out.

For more information visit www.placeofhopetn.com or call 931-388-9406 to find out current wait times for an available bed. Due to the manner of free care, there is typically a waiting period to begin residency.

Three New Docs Named (Press Release)

Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) welcomes three additional cardiology specialists to the medical staff as Ascension Saint Thomas Heart Columbia opens on May 1.

Thomas Cabell, MD, a general cardiologist, received his medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in Jackson, Mississippi. He completed his residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and a fellowship in cardiovascular disease at University of Florida Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. He is board certified in cardiovascular disease.

Temujin Dinaram, MD, an interventional cardiologist, received his medical degree from Ross University of Medicine in Portsmouth, Dominica. He completed his residency at New York Presbyterial Queens in Flushing, New York. Dr. Dinaram also completed a fellowship in cardiovascular medicine at SUNY Health Science Center in Brooklyn, New York, followed by a fellowship in interventional cardiology at Virginia Tech Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia. He is board certified in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology.

Amit Keswani, MD, an interventional cardiologist, received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada, West Indies. He completed his residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Dr. Keswani completed a fellowship in cardiovascular disease at Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, Louisiana, followed by a fellowship in interventional cardiology at University of Texas Health Sciences in Houston, Texas. He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology.

 Ascension Saint Thomas Heart Columbia is located at 1222 Trotwood Avenue, Suite 211, in Columbia, Tennessee. Office hours are Monday–Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To make an appointment, call 931.777.2300.

 The medical staff at Maury Regional Health includes 12 heart specialists with expertise in general cardiology, interventional cardiology and electrophysiology. The Heart Center offers a vast array of cardiac services ranging from diagnostic and interventional procedures to pacemaker and defibrillator implants, and recently invested $1.9 million to enhance cardiac services, which included new state-of-the-art technology in its cardiac catheterization labs. The medical center has been recognized as a Chest Pain Center with PCI by the American College of Cardiology and holds certification in the treatment of heart failure from The Joint Commission. In addition, U.S. News & World Report has recognized the medical center as a high performing hospital for heart attack treatment for 2023-2024.

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

Dolores Jean Smith Connell Love, 89, former resident of Columbia, died Tuesday, April 30.

Funeral services will be conducted Monday, May 6, 2024 at 1:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.   Burial will follow at Polk Memorial Gardens.  The family will visit with friends Sunday from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM and Monday from 12:00 noon until 1:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Bona Fide Law Under Legal Pressure (Tennessean)

A state law passed last year is facing it's second legal challenge by the same group. Their mission: Ensuring all Tennessee voters can cast primary ballots for any party without fear of retribution.

Bipartisan voters across the state, the League of Women Voters of Tennessee and former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe are banning together to rid polling places of signs that require voters to be "bona fide" members of the party whose primary they're voting in.

Their first attempt, initiated in November, was dismissed days before Super Tuesday. Ashe, a former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, told the USA TODAY Network-Tennessee they addressed Judge Eli Robinson's reasons for dismissing the original suit in their second attempt. He was disappointed with the March dismissal, but feels more confident now.

The original suit was shot down because plaintiffs were unable to prove the law confused any voters or suppressed turnout.

This time around, the plaintiffs are joined by voters who say were harmed by the law. In addition to Hart, voter James Palmer has joined the suit.

Palmer said in a release he didn't vote on Super Tuesday because he feared embarrassment. He's placed signs supporting Democratic candidates in his yard before, but planned to vote in the Republican primary before hearing about the new law.

The new suit also fixes some legal technicalities. The original suit listed only Secretary of State Tre Hargett as the defendant, though the new one adds all 32 of Tennessee's district attorneys. Ashe told Knox News that's in direct response to an aspect of the dismissal that said Hargett, as secretary of state, doesn't have authority to prosecute voters; the district attorneys do.

Ft. Campbell Officer Arrested for Arms Dealing (WKRN)

A lieutenant colonel at Fort Campbell has been indicted on federal criminal charges related to importing firearms illegally, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Tennessee announced Lt. Col. Frank Ross Talbert, 40, with the U.S. Army Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD), assigned to Fort Campbell, faces federal charges after an investigation by law enforcement uncovered evidence that he unlawfully imported firearms parts from Russia, China, and other countries.

Talbert also unlawfully dealt in firearms without a federal firearms license and committed multiple firearms violations related to the possession of machine guns, according to U.S. Attorney Henry C. Leventis.

Talbert was arrested Thursday, May 2, on the 21-count indictment charging him with eight counts of importing defense articles without a license, eight counts of smuggling firearms parts into the country, one count of firearms trafficking, two counts of possession of unregistered machine guns, one count of transporting a machine gun without a license and one count of dealing in firearms without a license.

If convicted, Talbert faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000.

The case was investigated by the Bowling Green office of the ATF, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security, FBI, and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Mid-South Live Steamers welcome everyone aboard for its Spring Meet this weekend at Maury County Park.

Guests will climb aboard trains to ride through the park's tracks, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Rides are also free to anyone who attends but will require a safety waiver.

Due to safety concerns, pregnant women or anyone over 350 pounds will not be permitted to ride. Children 18 months or younger must also be secured to the front of an adult in a baby carrier, sling or wrap.

Jerzee Dogs will also be serving up all beef Sabrett hot dogs, as well as walking Dorito bowls, cold drinks and more.

Maury County Park is located at 1018 Maury County Park Drive.

For more information, or to donate to Mid-South Live Steamers, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, visit www.MidSouthLiveSteamers.com.


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