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By BRIAN JUSTICE
Tullahoma’s 2012 had its ups and downs — industrial optimism remained high and progress was made in handling city issues and related problems — but three dark murders left a negative blemish on the year’s turn of events.
Here’s a look back at the 10 biggest stories that graced The News’ front pages in 2012.
Coffee EMS problems improve, but continue
Coffee County’s Emergency Medical Service in recent years has been plagued by funding issues, disagreements with the Tullahoma Fire Department and split differences among its leadership.
Some have improved, but EMS’ problems continued to make The News’ front-page headlines sporadically throughout the year.
Controversy had developed about Ambulance Authority chairman Jimmy Bradford’s role.
The Coffee County Commission had voted 11-9 in September to keep Bradford at the authority’s helm.
However, his chairmanship was opposed by the commission’s Tullahoma caucus.
Bradford’s position had been controversial due to a $700,000 operating deficit in the EMS budget and disagreements with Tullahoma’s Fire Department about response criteria to emergencies.
Going into the new year, the deficit has been reduced and the agreement with Tullahoma extended to where parties say they were in agreement.
New Coffee jail with if and buts
Much of 2012’s front pages were filled with development’s leading to getting a new Coffee County Jail on a 44-acre tract on Hillsboro Highway in Manchester.
After delays caused by environmental issues related to a federal loan program, the County Commission passed two resolutions in mid November that authorized issuing $22 million to construct a new 400-bed jail.
Ground was broken in December to officially christen the project.
Earlier, the jail project has been plagued with red tape that has resulted in an extended time frame.
Before the county even decided to finance the jail with USDA bonds, a wetlands delineation first had to be processed through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
That caused a two month delay while county engineers and architects relocated the building’s footprint to avoid disturbing small wetlands areas found site, which the county purchased last year for the jail construction.
The state’s requirements were met this past summer, however, officials decided to use federal financing through the USDA, which brought in a higher level of environmental review.
First, the county had to deal with the Indiana bat, an endangered species that may or may not have existed on the proposed site, but still had to be mitigated for by waiting several weeks and paying nearly $30,000 into a conservation fund.
Once that issue was cleared up in late July, another wetlands issue arose on the federal level, this time with regard to a property immediately behind the jail site.
Meagan McGuinn murdered in March
The first tragic murder to touch Tullahoma came on March 8 when 19-year old Meagan Ann McGuinn, a 2011 graduate of Tullahoma High School, was found stabbed to death at a duplex located at 1206 Harton Blvd.
Tullahoma police arrested Thomas Edward Allen, 20, who had resided on Blue Creek Road. He was charged with first-degree murder and theft of property valued at more than $500.
At year’s end, he remains in Warren County jail with a court appearance to be held early in the new year. He has entered a not guilty plea.
8-year-old helps bust theft ring
A theft crime ended on an almost humorous note in March when an 8-year-old Manchester boy played a significant role in breaking up a multi-state burglary operation involving thousands of dollars worth of stolen items.
Sheriff’s investigator Sgt. Danny Ferrell said the break came when Manchester resident Richard Crabtree reported that his iPad had been stolen during a burglary and that his 8-year-old son Landon knew how to trace it through the iPad’s security tracking system.
Landon, who afterwards was quoted as saying he wants to be an FBI agent, told his dad that the tracking device indicated the iPad was in the Ambassador Motel in Manchester.
Ferrell said he was astounded at the turn of events.
“He gave us the location where the iPad could be found and when we went to the Ambassador Motel where they (suspects) were staying, we found the iPad and a whole room full of items,” Ferrell said.
Authorities arrested a 46-year-old Virginia man, John Docherty, in connection with the case.
Docherty was initially held under $100,000 bond on a charge of aggravated burglary and under a $500,000 fugitive from justice bond. He was later transferred to other legal jurisdictions to face other charges in connection with the theft ring.
City finishes year with no outdoor pool
As the year has come to close, Tullahoma has been left with its Joel Ferrell Memorial Swimming Pool in disrepair and questions lingering about when it will reopen.
Board of Mayor and Aldermen members have been discussing options about how to get money to either repair, improve or expand the outdoor recreational facility. However, going into a new year no plans or money had been approved, but plans were being discussed to do something to remedy the situation.
Alderman Jimmy Blanks, a past Tullahoma Swim Club president, had said recently that upgrading the Joel Ferrell outdoor pool is doubtful considering the city’s expected escalating debt payment schedule.
Blanks had recommended upgrades to the deteriorated pool two years ago that would have allowed it to reach required swim meet competition standards.
However, with the nation and the city’s economy in a downturn, the Board of Aldermen agreed to make do with a deteriorating liner as long as possible, and no upgrades were made to the pool.
Plans were to use the existing liner at least through this summer, but a hailstorm last October rendered the liner un-repairable.
The city received $82,810 in insurance money to replace the liner, but the concrete substructure underneath it has crumbled to where replacing it in the pool’s present state wouldn’t be feasible.
School director gone? Contract vote in January
After moving further in the process toward replacing Tullahoma City Schools Director Dr. Dan Lawson through more than half the year, the Board of Education is going to consider extending his contract in January.
The board has set a special 6 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at the system’s administration building, 510 S. Jackson St., to consider whether Lawson’s employment should extend beyond its June 30, 2013, deadline.
Chairman Pat Welsh said board member Kim Uselton requested that the meeting be set to consider the contract extension.
Uselton said that when Tennessee School Boards Association personnel, who had been contracted to handle the director of schools replacement search had interviewed other administrators and school personnel, they expressed the replacement should exhibit most of Lawson’s qualities.
Meanwhile, Lawson has made the superintendent search short list in two school systems and is left with only two challengers at Oak Ridge Schools.
In August 2011, Tullahoma Board of Education members voted in a 4-3 split decision to renew Lawson’s contract, in spite of an 80 percent approval rating in his evaluation. Only six of the seven board members turned in evaluations.
The board did not vote on renewing Lawson’s contract in 2012, despite a strong movement from teachers and system employees to have him remain in his position.
Chandler Lawson is Miss Tennessee
Much of 2012 at the local level was highlighted by having one of its owned named Miss Tennessee and a contestant in the Miss America 2013 pageant.
Chandler Lawson was also the Tullahoma Christmas Parade’s 56th grand marshal.
Ms. Lawson, a longtime resident of Tullahoma, graduate of Tullahoma High School, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, former Miss Tullahoma reigning Miss Chattanooga, and is the founder of a highly successful Tullahoma charity 5Loaves4Kids, which provides sack lunches for needy children on the weekends.
The pageant is on Jan. 12 at Las Vegas, Nev.
Megan Sharpton death attracts national media
The second Tullahoma murder in 2012 involved claiming 24-year-old Erika Megan Sharpton’s life on July 2.
Her partially burned body was found early on July 4 a short distance off Awalt Road in Franklin County.
After an extensive search and evidence gathering process Donnie Jones, 37, of Tullahoma, was with first-degree murder on Nov. 6.
Jones, considered by police as the primary suspect for the past several months, was arrested by Franklin County Sheriff’s Department investigators after being indicted by the Franklin County Grand Jury.
He was transferred to the Franklin County Jail from the Coffee County Jail, where he was being held on an unrelated weapons charge. At year’s end he was being held without bail.
In addition to the murder charges, Jones is facing two counts of rape and two counts of aggravated kidnapping in Sharpton’s death, according to police.
It should be noted that Jones is presumed innocent of the charges until proven guilty in a court of law.
Sharpton’s partially burned body was found by a passerby in the early morning hours of July 2 on Awalt Road near the bridge over Tims Ford Lake in Franklin County. Thinking it was a grass fire, the driver turned his car around to investigate and discovered the victim’s burning body.
Her car was found later that day on Three Forks Bridge Road in Bedford County, while her purse was discovered two days later in Rock Creek near Estill Springs.
The brutal nature of the body burning resulted in the case being covered by national news services.
National Health Care to open $11 million site
A 2012 economic shot in the arm came to a head in October when National Health Care Inc. held a special groundbreaking on property next to Cedar Lane to christen an $11 million skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility.
The venture is expected to add 100 jobs and has a projected $14.3 million economic impact.
An economic feasibility study has shown that total wages paid, including those indirectly related to the operation, will total about $5.3 million, generating an estimated $215,000 in new local tax revenue annually.
Kayla Qualls’ life violently claimed in November
The third murder to touch home involved 23-year-old Kayla Qualls, 1813 E. Lincoln St., Tullahoma, whose body was discovered Nov. 26 in a vehicle off Spring Creek Road in Franklin County.
Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller labeled the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head.
Michael L. Curtis, 49, of 603 General St., Tullahoma, had been arrested by authorities and was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ms. Qualls.
Curtis is the father of Qualls’ former boyfriend and the grandfather of her two children. At year’s end he was held under $1 million bond in the Coffee County Jail.
Investigators said Qualls was killed at 603 General St. and then placed in her SUV and driven to the wooded area in Franklin County.
The location of the crime scene prompted investigators from Franklin and Coffee counties, along with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tullahoma Police Department, to work together on the case. Tullahoma Police Chief Paul Blackwell stated during the press conference that the agencies worked together and were able to “do Kayla justice.”
The sheriff would not disclose what the motive for the murder was but stated that the information would come out during a trial.