Local News Articles

Trial Date Postponed for Alleged Courthouse Arsonist

April 4, 2018
Dwayne Page
Gary Wayne Ponder
The DeKalb County Courthouse was evacuated June 14, 2016 after a newspaper recycling bin was set on fire in the vestibule near the first floor entrance.(Photo by Norene Puckett)
Heat from fire in newspaper recycling bin June 14, 2016 scorched wall and cracked glass window
Newspaper recycling bin pulled outside after fire at courthouse on June 14, 2016

The man accused of setting fire to the courthouse almost two years ago was scheduled to stand trial Wednesday for arson but the case against 55 year old Gary Wayne Ponder has been delayed.

During a brief hearing Wednesday morning in DeKalb County Criminal Court, Judge Gary McKenzie granted a defense motion for a continuance (postponement) of the trial after learning that Ponder’s medical condition could be affecting his mental state. The judge has reset the trial date for May 9 and ordered that Ponder undergo another evaluation in the meantime to determine if he is competent to stand trial. He was deemed to be competent after his first evaluation several weeks after the fire

As grounds for seeking the continuance, Assistant Public Defender Scott Grissom included with his motion a letter from Sherry Wright, a nurse practitioner at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who saw Ponder on March 21 and found him to be confused. According to Wright, Ponder is being treated for cirrhosis of the liver and that complications from this condition causes confusion.

In her letter to whom it may concern, Wright wrote on April 2 that “ I am caring for Mr. Gary Ponder who has a diagnosis of cirrhosis. One of the complications with cirrhosis is hepatic encephalopathy. This condition causes confusion because ammonia builds up in the brain when it does not metabolize in the liver due to cirrhosis (scarring in the liver). When I saw him (Ponder) in the office on March 21 he was confused. I have started a medication called Lactulose that helps to remove the ammonia from his brain to help with his condition”.

In granting the motion for a delay, Judge McKenzie said this is a serious case and he wanted to ensure that a just and fair trial be held and to lessen the risk of the case being sent back on appeal for another trial.

Assistant District Attorney General Stephanie Johnson said while the state looks forward to trying this case, she understands the reasons for the judge’s decision in light of the new information provided to the court.

While Ponder remains on bond pending the trial, Judge McKenzie instructed him to follow through on reporting for his scheduled evaluation within the next 30 days. If he doesn’t, Judge McKenzie warned Ponder that he would be ordered into custody for the evaluation.

Smithville Police charged Ponder on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 after he was observed on the courthouse surveillance video system intentionally lighting fire in a newspaper recycling bin on the first floor vestibule. The video showed that on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 Ponder grabbed newspapers from the recycling bin and started the fire by lighting them with a cigarette lighter. The fire damaged the wall behind the recycling bin and cracked a window in the vestibule near the first floor entrance of the courthouse.

Local attorney Jim Judkins was the first to spot the blaze. He tried to activate the fire alarm and accessed a fire extinguisher which he used to try to put out the blaze.

"I was going into the basement of the courthouse to file a notice with the court and noticed there was a fire about waist level in the recycling bins located in the front of the basement area. I tried to find if there was a fire extinguisher or a fire alarm. An individual had already pulled a fire alarm and it wasn’t working. I then went over to the election commission office and told them to call the fire department. I was looking for anything to put it out. I grabbed a coffee pot and some drinks off their desks (election commission office) and threw that on it (fire). That put it down a little. I then tried to activate another fire alarm but it too did not go off. Someone then brought me a fire extinguisher and I got it put out. It had burned part of the wall (behind the bin) and there was a ton of smoke to the point that I had to get down on my knees to finish putting the fire out," Judkins told WJLE.

Members of the Smithville Fire Department were notified and quickly responded.

Judkins later discovered that he had not completely extinguished the fire himself. " I talked with Smithville Fire Chief Charlie (Parker). I thought I had the fire put out but when they (city firefighters) took over he (Chief Parker) said it was smoldering and they had to empty another extinguisher," said Judkins.

County Mayor Tim Stribling said the total damages to the courthouse caused by the fire came to $120,706.52, which was the amount of the claim paid by the county’s insurance provider.

After the fire smoke had to be cleared from the courthouse, new ceiling tiles and dry wall work were required and a broken glass in the vestibule doorway had to be replaced.

The county also installed a new fire alarm system in the courthouse provided by FireTeam of Tracy City at a cost of $35,363.81. The system meets the latest International Fire Codes.

Two Injured in Wednesday Morning Crash on Highway 70 East

April 4, 2018
Dwayne Page
1992 Chevy Lumina driven by Jared Hendrixson (Photo by Jim Beshearse)
2014 Honda Accord driven by 63 year old Kathy Kujawski (Photo by Jim Beshearse)

Two people were injured in a crash today (Wednesday) on Highway 70 east near Turtle’s Bar & Grill.

Trooper Bobby Johnson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said 44 year old Jared Hendrixson of McMinnville was traveling east on Highway 70 in a 1992 Chevy Lumina when he crossed into the oncoming lane and struck a westbound 2014 Honda Accord driven by 63 year old Kathy Kujawski of Sparta. After impact, the Lumina went off an embankment.

Entrapped in his car, Hendrixson was extricated by members of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Team. He was then airlifted by helicopter ambulance to Vanderbilt Hospital.

Kujawski was transported by DeKalb EMS to Cookeville Regional Medical Center.

Members of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department were also on the scene.

DCHS FCCLA Student Elected State Vice President of STAR

April 4, 2018
Ashley Reynolds

Ashley Reynolds was recently elected FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) state vice president of STAR (Students Taking Action with Recognition) Events for the upcoming year. Reynolds, a junior and current chapter president of FCCLA at DCHS, competed for the honor at the recent state leadership meeting held in Chattanooga, March 21-23. In addition to her active campaigning during the 3-day event, Reynolds was also required to complete a detailed application, an oral interview and a written test.

In her new position, Reynolds will serve her chapter and the state association in various duties relating to the many and varied competitive STAR events held by FCCLA. For the past two years, Reynolds has competed in the Advocacy STAR event, focusing on the topics of teen pregnancy and the dangers of texting while driving. During last year’s national competition, Reynolds brought home the silver award.

“We want to congratulate Ashley and support her as she represents her chapter, school and community across the state and nation as a state officer,” DCHS FCCLA adviser Linda Parris said. “Our records indicate that Ashley is the first state officer elected from DCHS since the organization changed its name in 1999 from Future Homemakers of America. If anyone has knowledge of a state officer being elected from DeKalb County prior to this time, please let me know.” Parris may be contacted at: lindaparris@dekalbschools.net.

Taylor Indicted in Rash of Burglaries and Thefts

April 4, 2018
Dwayne Page
Ryan Davis Taylor

A Smithville man has been indicted by the DeKalb County Grand Jury accused of committing several burglaries and thefts from March through October, 2017.

24 year old Ryan Davis Taylor of Holmes Creek Road, Smithville is under indictment for burglary (6 counts), theft over $10,000, theft over $2,500 (2 counts), auto burglary, theft over $1,000 (2 counts), theft under $1,000 (4 counts), vandalism under $1,000 (2 counts), and aggravated burglary.

Taylor will be arraigned in DeKalb County Criminal Court on Monday, April 9 at 9 a.m.

The cases against Taylor are as follows:

*On March 20, 2017, Taylor allegedly unlawfully entered the habitation of a victim and stole a safe, knives, cash, a CD player, and several guns valued at over $1,000 constituting the offenses of aggravated burglary and theft over $1,000

*On June 18, 2017, Taylor allegedly entered a building other than a habitation of a victim and stole several musical instruments, cameras, CDs, video games, and jewelry valued at over $10,000 constituting the offenses of burglary and theft over $10,000.

*On July 14, 2017, Taylor allegedly entered a barn on Game Ridge Road, Smithville causing damage to it and took several hunting bows, hunting clothes, a computer, bullets, reloading equipment, rods and reels, and lights, valued at over $2,500 constituting the offenses of burglary, theft of property over $2,500, and vandalism under $1,000

*On August 8, 2017, Taylor allegedly stole a Rough Rider .22 caliber single 3 action revolver valued at under $1,000 constituting the offense of theft under $1,000

*On September 8, 2017, Taylor allegedly unlawfully entered a building other than a habitation of the victim and stole a Murray lawnmower and Craftsman pressure washer valued at under $1,000 constituting the offenses of burglary and theft under $1,000.

*On September 30 and October 3, Taylor allegedly entered a GEO Metro vehicle and stole a custom built AR-15, Craftsman tool set, drill, floor jack, Garmin GPS, and boots and glasses, valued at over $1,000 constituting the offenses of auto burglary and theft of property over $1,000.

*On October 3, Taylor allegedly entered a shed, cut a padlock and chain secured to a generator, and stole the generator, two log chains, grease gun, spud bar, an adjustable wrench, and rubber handled pliers all valued a under $1,000 constituting the offenses of burglary, vandalism under $1,000, and theft of property under $1,000. He returned to the same shed on October 5 and allegedly broke in and stole a 22 rifle, 22 pistol, Milwaukee band saw, a Rothberger threading set, Makita angle grinder, Makita drill, Makita Skill saw, Laser mark saw, three chainsaws, floor jack, extension cord, and grease fitting valued at over $2,500 constituting the offenses of burglary and theft of property over $2,500.

*On October 6, Taylor allegedly entered a residence on Allen Ferry Road and stole various jewelry, TV, coffee pot, keys, remotes, laptop, and a tablet, valued at over $1,000 constituting the offenses of burglary and theft of property over $1,000.

Man Injured in Pickup Truck Crash Has Died

April 3, 2018
Dwayne Page
Robert Page

A Smithville man who was seriously injured in a pickup truck crash last week has died.

70 year old Robert Page passed away Monday night at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga. The body is at DeKalb Funeral Chapel. Arrangements are incomplete.

The accident occurred Tuesday night, March 27 on Dale Ridge Road (Highway 96) about a mile from Highway 70.

According to Trooper Sean Tramel of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Page was driving south in a 1993 Nissan pickup truck when he went off the edge of the roadway while going around a curve. As the truck slid sideways, Page overcorrected and the vehicle clipped the end of a guardrail before going down an embankment. The truck then crashed into a tree.

Although there were no eye witnesses to the wreck, Trooper Tramel said Richard Summers, a resident closeby, heard the crash but didn’t see the truck at first when he went outside his home to investigate. A short while later, Summers spotted the truck from the lights of a passing car on the highway and alerted authorities.

Members of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Team were summoned to the scene to perform extrication as Page was trapped in the truck.

Page was taken by DeKalb EMS from the scene to a helicopter landing zone on Highway 70 at the top of Snow Hill. From there he was airlifted to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.

Members of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department were also at the scene of the crash to provide traffic control and other assistance.

The investigation was conducted by Trooper Tramel and THP Sergeant Eric McCormick. Trooper Tramel said Page was wearing his seatbelt.

Two Indicted in Flare Gun Arson Investigation

April 3, 2018
Dwayne Page
Kylan Taylor Leeper
Daniel Lewis Dillard

Two men who allegedly participated in firing a flare gun into homes in December have been indicted by the Grand Jury

19 year old Kylan Taylor Leeper of Man Road Lebanon is under indictment for aggravated arson, reckless endangerment, and theft under $1,000. Another defendant in the case, 20 year old Daniel Lewis Dillard of Lee Braswell Road, Smithville has been indicted for attempted aggravated arson.

According to Sheriff Patrick Ray, Leeper went to Walmart in Smithville on December 1, allegedly stole a flare gun (valued at $47), and went to a residence on Short Mountain Highway where he fired the flare gun placing the victim (woman) in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury constituting the offense of reckless endangerment

Three days later, Leeper and Dillard allegedly participated in firing the flare gun at a home on Lee Braswell Road while a woman and a minor were inside causing damage to the residence. There apparently were no injuries. Leeper is indicted for actually damaging the residence. Dillard’s indictment is for attempting to damage the home.

Dillard was already on probation for a separate offense at the time of the incident.

Smithville Elementary Names Students of the Month

April 3, 2018
Dwayne Page
Smithville Elementary Names Students of the Month

Smithville Elementary would like to recognize Students of the Month for March. These students were selected for their outstanding character, academics, and other traits that make them an all-around excellent student. Selected as Students of the Month for March are:

Pre-K: Braylen Ferrell

Kindergarten: Gabriel Stuart

1st grade: Baylee Killian

2nd grade: Peyton Bandy
(Photo attached, students are pictured with Assistant Principal Anita Puckett and Principal Julie Vincent)

City Sells Fire Truck to County

April 3, 2018
Dwayne Page
City sells 1992 fire truck to County

The City of Smithville has sold its oldest fire engine to the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department.

During Monday night’s regular monthly meeting, the Smithville Aldermen voted 3 to 1 to accept the county’s bid of $30,000 to purchase the 1992 fire truck. The only other bid came from the Town of Alexandria, totaling $28,770. The Alexandria town government bid $27,270 plus $1,500 by the Alexandria Firefighters Association.

Aldermen Josh Miller, Shawn Jacobs, and Danny Washer voted to award the bid to the county. Alderman Gayla Hendrix, who felt Alexandria had a greater need for the truck, voted against it. Alderman Jason Murphy was absent.

Prior to the vote Monday night, Alexandria Mayor Bennett Armstrong addressed the Smithville Mayor and Aldermen asking that they accept Alexandria’s bid over the county’s. “Our situation is we have a fire engine that is 38 years old and it is losing its operational ability. The air brakes are failing. The water tank is leaking and the engine is not reliable. There is a need in our part of the county. I have no objection against the county getting the fire truck its just I feel we have a greater need,” said Mayor Armstrong.

“Is there a requirement that we take the highest bid,” asked Alderman Hendrix?

“You can make that choice,” said Vester Parsley, who is the city attorney for both Smithville and Alexandria.

“State law is you take the highest bid but if you take a lower bid you have to give a very good reason,” said City Administrator Hunter Hendrixson.

Alderman Miller said he felt like the city had an obligation to the residents it serves to accept the highest bid.

“It takes a lot of grit for the mayor (Bennett Armstrong) to come and ask for what he did. I also had another representative of Alexandria call me last week over this same issue. But I don’t know what kind of reason we could give Smithville for taking the lower bid. At the end of the day we are fiscally responsible for Smithville. I wish we had two (fire trucks) to sell but being fiscally responsible for Smithville I believe we need to take the high bid and I make a motion to accept the county volunteer fire department’s bid of $30,000,” said Alderman Miller.

Alderman Jacobs seconded the motion.

Again, the vote was 3 to 1 to accept the county’s bid.

City Administrator Hendrixson said funds from the sale of the fire truck will go into city’s general fund but it will be line itemed as fire department revenue and could be put toward the purchase of the city’s new fire truck.

In January, the city received a new Pierce Impel PUC Rescue Pumper, which is a combination fire engine/rescue vehicle. The new truck cost the city $751, 575.
In addition to the new fire truck, the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department has two others, a 2001 model along with a 2012 ladder truck.

The county already has funding in place to purchase the truck from a USDA Community Facility Grant of $15,000 with a $28,000 local match for a total project amount of $43,000 which is budgeted in the county's capital projects fund. The grant was approved in April 2017 for firefighting equipment, protective gear, and other resources. County Mayor Tim Stribling filed for the grant with the approval of the county commission. In August, 2017, the county received approval for a second USDA grant of $16,000 also with a local match.

The Town of Alexandria has tried at least twice within the last three years to obtain a Community Development Block Grant to purchase a new fire engine but has had no success due to the town’s inability to score high enough to qualify and the number of applicants in competition for the grants.

The Alexandria Fire Department is staffed with volunteers and two fire trucks. The oldest truck, a 1981 model, is on indefinite loan to the city from Wilson County, but would be returned if a new truck were to be purchased. The other fire truck is a 1997 model.

In May, 2015, the city learned that the Insurance Services Office raised Alexandria's Public Protection Classification (PPC) rating from a Class 7 to a Class 4 making it the best ISO rate in the county. The City of Smithville’s ISO improved from a 6 to a 5/5x during the summer of 2015 and the county’s ISO has improved to a Class 6 for all areas of DeKalb County located within 5 road miles of one of the department’s 11 stations.

Meanwhile, Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker informed the aldermen Monday night that plans are to sell the department’s service truck using an on-line service. “ I have pictures turned in on it to get it listed with a company in Alabama that does on-line fire truck sales. We are waiting to hear from them as to a fair price to put on that truck to put it on line. They are not buying the truck but will give us a good estimate of what they think we should ask for it. We will then advertise on their website,” said Chief Parker.

Thirty People Indicted by Grand Jury

April 3, 2018
Dwayne Page

Thirty people were indicted for various crimes by the new term of the DeKalb County Grand Jury Monday.

Those indicted will appear for arraignment in DeKalb County Criminal Court on Monday, April 9 at 9:00 a.m. There were no sealed indictments.

The defendants and their charges are as follows:

Zachary Tyler Adams: driving under the influence and DUI per se

Amanda Michelle Arnold: theft over $1,000

Kenneth Lee Bain, Jr.: driving under the influence

Olivia Hope Barber: introduction of contraband (2 counts)

Jose Alberto Narvaez Becerra: aggravated assault and domestic assault (2 counts)

Timmy Eugene Bowman: violation of an order of protection

John William Cline: driving on a suspended license (3rd offense), 2 counts

Billy Eugene Cook, Jr.: theft over $1,000

Jason Bradley Cripps: driving under the influence and driving on a revoked license

Daniel Louis Dillard: attempted aggravated arson

Bryon Ray Gibbs: aggravated assault (2 counts), resisting arrest, vandalism over $2,500, driving under the influence, and failure to exercise due care

Bryon Ray Gibbs and Jack Junior Mullican: aggravated burglary, theft under $1,000, and vandalism under $1,000

Jerry H. Goff: possession with intent to sell or deliver a schedule II controlled substance and unlawful possession of a weapon

Rhonda Joy Goff: retaliation for past action and evading arrest

Russell Bryan Johns: driving under the influence (5th offense) and driving on a revoked license (3rd offense)

Aubrey Lee Kilgore: driving under the influence (3rd offense), violation of financial responsibility, and failure to exercise due care

Scotty Wayne Knowles: driving on a revoked license (2nd offense), 3 counts; violation of financial responsibility, speeding, violation of registration, and violation of the light law

Phillip Lane Lawrence: unlawful possession of a weapon

Kylan Taylor Leeper: aggravated arson, reckless endangerment, and theft under $1,000

Crystal Lachelle Thompson Murphy: driving on a suspended license. violation of financial responsibility, and failure to obey traffic control device

Gregory Eugene Neal: auto burglary (2 counts), burglary, theft over $1,000, and vandalism under $1,000

David Harold Pack: domestic assault (2 counts)

Ronald Jeffrey Patterson: aggravated assault, reckless endangerment (2 counts), and evading arrest

Mark Dewayne Petty: unlawful possession of a weapon and simple possession of a schedule VI drug

Michael Brandon Redmon: retaliation for past action, aggravated criminal trespass, vandalism under $1,000, and disorderly conduct

Timothy Shawn Roller: driving under the influence and DUI per se

Curtis Pitner Shelton: driving under the influence, driving on a revoked license, and vandalism under $1,000

Patty Sue Tatrow: aggravated burglary, theft up to $1,000, and false report

Ryan Davis Taylor: burglary (6 counts), theft over $10,000, theft over $2,500 (2 counts), auto burglary, theft over $1,000 (2 counts), theft under $1,000 (4 counts), vandalism under $1,000 (2 counts), and aggravated burglary

Trinity K. Wildbur: introduction of contraband

Two Inmates Found with Contraband in Jail

April 2, 2018
Dwayne Page
Christopher Keith Derrick
Thomas Braxton Nix
Daniel Lynn Johnson
Riley Anthony Bullard

Two inmates at the DeKalb County Jail were found with contraband during a search last week.

22 year old Christopher Keith Derrick of Toad Road, Dowelltown is charged with simple possession of a schedule IV controlled substance and bringing contraband into a penal institution. His bond is $8,500 and his court date is April 12.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said that at 6:40 a.m. on Monday, March 26 a correctional officer was notified by radio that Derrick had something in his possession as the officer was walking inmates out of the jail annex preparing to conduct a search. As the officer approached him to conduct a search, Derrick tried to pass two small Tylenol tubes and a lighter to another inmate. The officer obtained the tubes and opened them. Inside one of the tubes were five small blue pills. The other tube was empty. When the officer asked Derrick about the pills, he said it was Clonazepam.

Meanwhile, 22 year old Thomas Braxton Nix is charged with bringing contraband into a penal institution. His bond is $5,000 and his court date is April 12.

Sheriff Ray said that at 6:49 a.m. on Monday, March 26 during a search of the Jail annex, a correctional officer found on Nix’s bunk a green leafy substance believed to be marijuana.

21 year old Daniel Lynn Johnson of Page Drive, Smithville is charged with theft of property. His bond is $5,000 and his court date is April 12.
Sheriff Ray said that on Tuesday, March 27 Johnson allegedly stole a Yamaha dirt bike from a residence on Page Drive valued at $1,400.
The case was investigated by a sheriff’s department detective.

52 year old Riley Anthony Bullard of Kings Court, Smithville is charged with public intoxication. His bond is $1,500 and his court date is April 12.
Sheriff Ray said that on Sunday, April 1 a deputy was dispatched to a residence on Sparta Highway due to an unwanted guest. Upon arrival he spoke with Bullard who had a strong odor of alcohol on his person and he was very unsteady on his feet. Bullard was taken into custody for his safety and that of the public.


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