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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 6-25-24


Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for June 25, 2024

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

We start with local news…

Eleven Plead Guilty to Drug Trafficking (MauryCountySource)

Eleven members of a drug trafficking conspiracy pled guilty to conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances in middle Tennessee, according to United States Attorney Henry C. Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee. Seven of the eleven hail from Columbia. They seven are:

Davontay Holt, 30, of Columbia, Tennessee, pled guilty on April 8, 2024

Khyre McClain, 21, of Columbia, Tennessee, pled guilty on May 17, 2024

Ethan Kimes, 22, of Columbia, Tennessee, pled guilty on May 29, 2024

Jahari Armstrong, 22, of Columbia, Tennessee, pled guilty on May 29, 2024

Jaydan Armstrong, 22, of Columbia, Tennessee, pled guilty on May 29, 2024

Tristain Orr, 24, of Columbia, Tennessee, pled guilty on June 17, 2024


Quortez Duncan, 36, of Columbia, Tennessee, pled guilty on June 18, 2024. The remaining four hailed from California.

According to charging and plea documents, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations were investigating the distribution of methamphetamine, marijuana and counterfeit fentanyl-laced Oxycodone tablets with the inscription “M30” which were being shipped from the Santa Rosa, California, area to Tennessee and more than a dozen other states. Subsequent investigation, including surveillance and the review of social media sites and mobile payment records, identified members of the drug distribution network. Law enforcement officers in Columbia, Tennessee, executed several search warrants of the defendants’ residences and recovered loaded firearms and blue tablets inscribed “M30.”

On July 25, 2022, Homeland Security agents seized a package from a UPS Store in Sebastopol, California, which was destined for Nashville. This package contained thousands of counterfeit fentanyl-laced Oxycodone “M30” tablets weighing over two kilograms. The package also contained more than eight pounds of methamphetamine.

On August 9, 2022, HSI agents intercepted two additional packages from the Santa Rosa area which were destined for residences in Nashville. One package contained 472 grams of the counterfeit fentanyl-laced Oxycodone “M30” tablets and the other package contained approximately four pounds of methamphetamine.

The defendants will be sentenced before United States District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., in the spring of 2025. Four of the Californian and two from Columbia: McClain, and Duncan face up to life imprisonment and a $10,000,000 fine. Holt, Orr, Kimes, Jahari Armstrong, and Jaydan Armstrong face up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration; Homeland Security Investigations; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Memphis Field Office, Nashville Resident Agency; and the Columbia Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ahmed Safeeullah and Rachel Stephens are prosecuting the case.

OPMobility to Expand (Press Release)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart C. McWhorter and OPmobility (formerly Plastic Omnium) officials announced on Monday, that the company will undergo a $3 million expansion at its Spring Hill plant.

The sustainable mobility company's expansion will create 186 new jobs, up from just 18 currently in Maury County and 568 across the state, contributing to the automotive industry, according to the announcement.

OPmobility, headquartered in France, is a global family-led group with 152 plants across 28 countries. The company has operated in Tennessee since 2015 with locations in Chattanooga, Smyrna, Spring Hill and Hendersonville.

Officials say the project is a new opportunity for OPmobility to expand its product offerings for customers and further support electric vehicle production lines, according to the announcement.


“Tennessee has earned a worldwide reputation for being one of the best places to do business, not just in the U.S. but across the globe. I’m grateful that OPmobility has chosen to expand its operations and welcome more jobs and greater opportunity for Tennesseans.” – Gov. Bill Lee

“We’re excited for OPmobility to expand its Spring Hill plant. It’s clear that the automotive industry is booming in Tennessee, and today’s announcement is the latest example. We always appreciate foreign investment in this state, and brands like OPmobility help strengthen our reputation for being a state friendly to those businesses outside our borders.” – TNECD Commissioner Stuart C. McWhorter

Since 2020, TNECD has supported approximately 15 economic development projects in Maury County, resulting in more than 3,500 job commitments and nearly $5 billion in capital investments.

McWhorter said the expansion is further evidence of the automotive boom in Tennessee. Maury County alone is home to the largest General Motors plant in North America located in Spring Hill, which is also the location of the multi-billion dollar Ultium Cells battery plant, which supplies batteries for the Cadillac SUV Lyriq manufactured at GM Spring Hill.

“OPmobility is excited by the new challenges given by the overall mobility transformation in the automotive industry.  We are proud to pursue our engagement and industrial excellence in Tennessee with one of the top OEM in vehicle electrification.” – Xavier Maury, OPmobility Operations Director U.S.A.

“I am proud to help announce that OPmobility is expanding its operations into Maury County. The 186 jobs will be a great boost to the local economy, and I look forward to seeing the company succeed.” – Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald)

About OPmobility

OPmobility (formerly known as Plastic Omnium) is a world leader in sustainable mobility and a worldwide technology partner to actors from every mobility sector. Innovation driven since its foundation in 1946, OPmobility has five complementary business groups offering its customers a wide range of solutions: intelligent exterior systems, customized complex modules, lighting systems, energy storage systems, and battery and hydrogen electrification solutions. OPmobility’s customers also benefit from OP’nSoft, its inhouse software development specialist.

With €11.4 billion economic revenue in 2023 and an international footprint of 152 plants and 40 R&D centers, OPmobility relies on its 40,300 employees to meet the challenges of making mobility more sustainable.

School Vouchers Big Topic at Election Time (Tennessean)

Whether to support state-funded scholarships for students to attend private schools has become a pivotal issue on the campaign trail as Republican primaries for the Tennessee legislature kick into high gear.

Gov. Bill Lee has pledged to bring back a school choice bill during the next legislative session, despite a failure to coalesce support around the idea this year.

With campaigning for the Aug. 1 primary underway, high-ranking Republicans in the state continue a push to build support for a statewide universal school choice program, and stump for pro-voucher allies. Meanwhile special interest groups are knocking doors in an effort to move the needle among voters and bolster support for pro-voucher candidates.

But a set of challengers seeking to topple pro-voucher incumbents demonstrates that the idea of publicly-funded private school vouchers is not universally accepted among Republicans ― particularly in rural areas of the state.

The upcoming Republican primary is likely to become a referendum on the issue, as dissatisfaction with incumbent positions on school choice — whether in support or opposition — is among the issues that have driven several challengers to run.

“We've got to stand up to them now,” said Justin Spurlock, a history teacher and father of two from Burns, who is challenging six-term incumbent Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson.

As a teacher, Spurlock said he has heard from many people in the district — from school board members to his neighbors — who don’t support the voucher proposal, and he feels Littleton’s support for the measure didn’t represent the wishes of his district. Knowing Lee would likely be supporting Littleton, Spurlock decided to launch a bid “before it’s too late.”

Lee's proposal this year did not come to any committee on which Littleton sits. She voted for the governor's Education Savings Accounts school choice voucher program in 2019. Americans for Prosperity Action ― a group that engaged heavily on the issue last spring ― has endorsed Littleton.

And earlier this month, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, named Littleton a "Legislator of the Year" at the Tennessee Republican Party's annual Statemen's Dinner fundraiser.

In announcing her reelection bid, Littleton touted her support for children and parents, votes to raise teacher pay and improve school safety.

"I'm seeking reelection to promote public safety, strengthen our economy and improve education," she said in announcing her bid for another two-year term. Littleton did not respond to a request for comment specifically on the voucher issue.

Instead of funding a voucher program, Spurlock said the state should invest those dollars into public schools, and boost teacher pay.

"I would never say somebody can't opt the kid out of public school. I'm just saying why do I as a taxpayer have to pay for two systems? It just seems like we're paying for something twice. It seems like it's a burden on taxpayers," Spurlock told The Tennessean. "I'm a person who believes in fiscal responsibility, limited government, low taxes."

In his experience as a teacher, Spurlock said no matter how a proposed voucher program may be funded, students leaving the public school system will erode funding for existing schools and programs, which is allocated at the state level on a per-student basis.

"I work at a school, so I kind of know how this works. You have general education ― the things that you have to take to be able to get a high school diploma in Tennessee ― and then you have electives. And some people feel like maybe they're not all that important: music classes, drama, criminal justice is a big one in our school," Spurlock said. "Those kind of programs are not required for graduation. So if we start losing funding at $100,000 per 10 to 15 students and enough students, we might not be able to provide those extras."

He said that could eventually "separate the rich from the poor," creating a two-tiered system ― separating families who can afford private schools from those who can't, even with a voucher.

"Now my kids who don't have the opportunity to go to a private school, they're stuck at the public school, but now they can't do choir, they can't do band, they can't do criminal justice ― all these programs that they could have done before they started taking our tax dollars out," he said.

Here in Maury County, Ray Jeter, who runs a construction company in Columbia, is challenging Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, who cosponsored Lee's voucher bill in the House and played a key role in shepherding it through the legislature this spring.

Alongside Cepicky's advocacy for school choice, he has championed autonomy for home school students, who turned out in droves at the state Capitol to oppose Lee's voucher proposal. Cepicky was caught on a recording this spring saying that his goal with the public school system is to "throw the whole freaking system in the trash." Cepicky said he will continue to support expanding school choice options next year.

"I have spoken to many parents in my district and most parents want the option of being able to remove their kids from a public school that is not meeting their student's needs and put them into another alternative," Cepicky told The Tennessean in a text message.

Cepicky noted the House version would have reduced testing and evaluation for teachers and increased maintenance funding and insurance benefits for teachers in order to "allow it to go back to the way it used to be of teachers teaching and students learning."

"We are very close to creating the system that we all want in K-12 education in Tennessee," Cepicky told The Tennessean. "The system we currently have is failing our teachers and our students."

While it wasn't the primary issue that spurred his candidacy, Jeter said he supports the concept of school choice — himself a product of both public and private schools. But any expansion of choice programs, Jeter said, would need to keep private and homeschoolers “protected from government involvement.”

“I am fundamentally for school choice,” Jeter said, noting the high number of students in Maury County that are not enrolled in public schools. “But I think private education has to remain private. My only fear is that if we start moving funds from public education into private, that soon thereafter, government regulations are coming.” 

City Parking to Reopen (MauryCountySource)

The City of Columbia has announced that the free parking lot directly behind City Hall will reopen to the public on Monday, July 1, 2024.

A small handful of parking spaces near the Columbia Police Department will remain closed temporarily to allow for the completion of additional repairs.

The City of Columbia Downtown Parking Garage remains under construction after the completion date, originally set for June, was delayed by one month.

The 3-hour parking enforcement downtown will also resume on July 1st.

Athenaeum Fundraiser (Press Release)

The Athenaeum, one of Columbia’s premier historic sites, will be hosting the Annual Membership Meeting and Bean Supper/ Auction this Saturday, June 29th, at the Athenaeum Rectory, located at 808 Athenaeum Street. Supper begins at 5 followed by the meeting and Auction. There will be many items to choose from. Please join us and help with the upkeep of the historic Athenaeum Rectory.

Run for The Well Outreach (Press Release)

Join The Well Outreach on July 4th at Summit High School in Spring Hill, for an action-packed day of fun in support of your local food pantry! Lace up your shoes and choose from a Timed 5K or Color Fun Run (complete with a FOAM pit!). There is a 1 mile turnaround option for those young ones who still want to get in on the fun!

 Not a runner but still want to support the Well? Opt for the Sleep In Option and still grab some awesome event merchandise!

 Plus, don’t miss the Bicycle/Stroller Parade (hosted by Spring Hill Parks and Recreation), perfect for the whole family!

Come and be part of this unforgettable event as we Run For Hunger in Middle Tennessee! Sign up today as spots will fill up fast!


Your participation can make a difference to help feed families in need in Middle Tennessee!

Groups Join for 4th Festivities (MSM)

Join the Breakfast Rotary, Noon Rotary and Kiwanis of Columbia for the 10th anniversary of the clubs’ 4th of July celebration.

The clubs will be sponsoring this free event on Thursday, July 4, at the Kiwanis shelter located in Maury County Park.

“We honor citizens that day that have done just an outstanding job to our community,” Noon Rotary member George Vrailas said, adding that three such citizens will be receiving a “Great American Service Above Self Award.”

The Honoring Ceremony will be at 8:30 a.m. and the Kid’s Bike Parade will follow at 9:15 a.m.

“Everyone comes out in their colors – red, white and blue – and decorations and just has a good time,” Vrailas said.

He said that “everyone is welcome,” but bikes are for younger children, “like elementary school kids,” and if they need help decorating their bikes, red ribbons will be provided.

In years past, along with the bikes, Vrailas said that children have been in wagons and strollers and dogs have also been in the parade that begins at the Kiwanis shelter, located next to the Kid’s Kingdom, and goes around the back of the playground and ends back where it started.

Along with the ceremony and parade, there will also be a children’s essay contest “on what the 4th of July means to them,” Vrailas said.

There will be free drinks and snacks for children, and they are also invited to participate in other activities (face painting and charactures) as well.

Vrailas included that the event is intended to “give honor to our veterans and local community heroes that have served our community well and to inspire patriotism in our youth.”

The celebration is expected to wrap up at 11:30 a.m.

Maury Democrats To Hold Debate (Press Release)

The Maury County Democratic Party (MCDP) announced there will be a debate on Monday, July 8, 2024, at 6 p.m. between two Democratic candidates running for the Tennessee State House of Representatives in District 64.

The event will be held at Macedonia Recreation Center, 501 Armstrong St., Columbia, and is open to the public. It will begin at 6 p.m. and will last for approximately one hour.

Eileen Longstreet and Alex Pierce will participate with Justin Kanew of the Tennessee Holler moderating.

Alex Pierce is from Columbia and Eileen Longstreet is from Spring Hill.

House District 64 includes the eastern part of Maury County. The seat is currently held by Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka).

James Dallas, MCDP Chair said, “We are excited to offer voters in House District 64 an opportunity to learn more about our candidates.”

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

Mrs. Kathleen Fay Akin Coates was born in Columbia, Tennessee on April 25th, 1939 and passed away on May 20th, 2024 at the age of 85. 

A memorial service will be held at Riverside United Methodist Church at 11 AM on June 29th. The family will visit with friends prior to the service at the church. A private inurnment will be held at Polk Memorial Gardens Mausoleum.

Gary Oliver of Columbia, Tennessee, and a native of West Virginia, passed away at the age of 80. 

Gary was a member of Graymere Church of Christ. No services are scheduled at this time, Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements. 

Barbara Ann Head Duvall, 76, retired educator for Maury County Schools, and resident of Columbia, died Thursday, June 21, 2024 at her residence. 

Funeral services will be conducted Saturday, June 29, 2024 at 2:00 p.m. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home with James Anderson and her son, Jason Duvall officiating. Burial will follow in Hardison Cemetery on Joe Brown Road. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the funeral home. Condolences may be extended online at 

…And now, news from around the state…

Nashville Crayfish Rebounding (WPLN)

Dale McGinnity has been turning over rocks in Mill Creek to study the endangered Nashville crayfish for a decade. He hopes to learn whether this little crustacean that makes its home mainly in the urbanized area around its namesake city is being harmed by all the development surrounding it. The results are encouraging.

“Things are looking good so far,” said McGinnity, who works at the Nashville Zoo as curator of ectotherms, or cold-blooded creatures. “It’s been a really nice, maybe steady or slightly increasing population over those 10 years.”

But that good news is also potentially bad news. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the Nashville crayfish from the endangered species list in 2019, and that proposal is still being considered. A healthy and robust population could add to the pressure to remove it.

But some biologists argue the Nashville crayfish still needs protection because species with very small ranges are more vulnerable to extinction, for a variety of reasons.

McGinnity credits the current healthy population to recent changes to stormwater regulations. Runoff from parking lots, building and other hard surfaces now drains to bioretention areas, where it is slowly reabsorbed into the ground.

“The old guidelines, it was just all a whole bunch of impervious surfaces that ran to the storm drains that went right to the creek. So that means there’s huge flooding. There’s huge amounts of oil and other toxins that get into the water.”

On Tuesday, McGinnity and a crew from the zoo were at Mill Creek for their annual population survey. Sycamores and maple trees shaded the shallow, rippling water filled with the flat limestone rocks that crayfish love to hide under. It did not take long before the group began spotting them.

One of the things that makes the Nashville crayfish unique, McGinnity said, is that they will hang out in open areas in broad daylight during the summer months. Most crayfish — also called crawfish or crawdads, depending on the region — are primarily active at night. The behavior seems as though it would make them vulnerable to predators, and why they do it is one of many mysteries scientists have yet to study, he said.

The Nashville crayfish are also unusually sociable, he said, noting that he has found upwards of 60 together under a single rock.

“There’s still a lot to be learned about Nashville crayfish, and actually all crayfish,” McGinnity said.

There’s no better place to study them than Tennessee, or possibly Alabama. The two states vie for title of the most crayfish diversity in the world. Both states have more than 100 species, with new ones still being discovered and described, he said.

Parker Hildreth, a biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, has recently been using genetic testing to help map that diversity. Hildreth said he grew up playing with crayfish in a Tennessee creek and recently discovered that those same crayfish he played with may be an undescribed species.

Asked why the public should care about crayfish, Hildreth offered two thoughts.

“Aquatic organisms are the canary in the coal mine for water quality. So if you’re seeing impacts to our native species, then the same things that are affecting aquatic life can easily affect human life,” he said.

The second reason is cultural and goes back to his childhood.

“I think that’s intrinsic to most Tennesseans, that we grew up playing in a creek,” he said. “And I wouldn’t like to live in a world where I wasn’t able to do that.”

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

It’s race week in Wilson County as the Nashville Superspeedway plays host to three action-packed events on the 1.33-mile “D” shaped oval.

Temperatures figure to be as hot as the racing while fans take in the Craftsman Truck Series Rackley Roofing 200 on Friday; the Xfinity Series Tennessee Lottery 250 on Saturday and the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 Sunday afternoon.

Nashville Superspeedway features 14 degrees of banking and has hosted three NASCAR Cup Series races, 24 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, 16 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events and eight Indy Racing League contests.

The largest concrete-only track in NASCAR, Nashville Superspeedway is owned by Speedway Motorsports.


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