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Geneva Shoopman Stephens age 91 of Monticello, formerly of Winfield, TN, passed away Sunday November 22, 2015. Funeral services will be Wednesday at 11:00AM at McCreary County Funeral Home with burial in Sherd Dobbs Cemetery. Visitation will be Tuesday after 5:00PM at the funeral home. McCreary County Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Etta Lynn Owens age 55 of Whitley City, daughter of Silas and Wanda (Yancey) Owens, passed away Monday November 23, 2015. Funeral services will be Friday at 1:00PM at Hickman-Strunk Funeral Home with burial in Owens Family Cemetery. Visitation will be Friday after 11:00AM at the funeral home. Hickman-Strunk Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. 
Roger Rose age 69 of Parkers Lake, husband of Shelby Rose, passed away Tuesday November 24, 2015. Funeral services will be Saturday at 11:00AM at McCreary County Funeral Home with burial in Eagle Creek Cemetery. Visitation will be Friday after 6:00PM at the funeral home. McCreary County Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
(Updated Wednesday November 25, 2015 @ 8:45am)

Just in time for the holidays, Kentucky State Police have launched a new initiative aimed at cutting down on aggressive, impaired and distracted drivers on Kentucky's roadways. In fact, Operation RAID, stands for
Remove Aggressive, Impaired and Distracted drivers. Figures show that the number of lives lost on Kentucky's roadways has increased in 2015 compared to last year. Through November 19th, in 2014 585 lives had been lost in traffic crashes while 652 lost their lives during the same period this year. The focus of the new operation is to enforce traffic laws and bring awareness to dangerous driving behavior, especially those that can lead to injuries and fatalities. Citizens can contribute to the effort by driving responsibly and by reporting aggressive and erratic drivers to the Kentucky State Police by using their toll free line at 1-800-222-5555 or by contacting local law enforcement. Remember that patrols are bring increased for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend which officially runs from 6:00pm this evening (Wednesday November 25th) through Sunday night.

The 2015-2016 season of high school basketball is just about set to tip off, with the teams from McCreary Central High School practicing now in anticipation of their first games next week. A special program will be held at McCreary Central next Tuesday December 1st at 7:00pm to introduce the Raider and Lady Raider basketball squads to fans. Elementary teams from Pine Knot and Whitley City will also be recognized according to information released about the event, which will also include a chili supper starting at 6:00pm. Admission to the program is free but the dinner will be sold for $5.00 with proceeds benefiting the local sports programs. The first games for both the Raiders and Lady Raiders will be next Thursday December 3rd as the Raiders will be on the road at Barbourville where they will play Oneida Baptist at 6:00pm. The Lady Raiders will host Russell County the same night with varsity tip off at 7:30pm.

With just a couple of weeks left in office, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear will see his time in office still making an impact into 2016. Beshear will leave office on December 8th when Governor-Elect Matt Bevin is sworn in, but Beshear recently declared 2016 as the “Year of the National Park Service Centennial” in Kentucky. In August of next year, the National Park Service will celebrate 100 years since it was created by the signing of the Organic Act by President Woodrow Wilson. There are five National Parks located in Kentucky, including the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which encompasses 125,000 acres, crossing the state line between Kentucky and Tennessee. Superintendents from all five parks were in Bowling Green last month for a tourism conference, at which Lt. Governor Crit Luallen presented each with a copy of the proclamation signed by Governor Beshear. Special events, programs and activities are being planned in the park throughout 2016 to help celebrate the occasion. For additional information on the National Park Service, visit their website at www.nps.gov.

With Thanksgiving this week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has offered a series of tips on safe handling, thawing and cooking of turkeys. They say you should keep your turkey at a safe temperature, noting that the range from 40 degrees to 140 degrees is the “danger zone” when foodborne bacteria can multiple rapidly. While frozen, turkeys are safe indefinitely but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow. The safe ways to thaw food include in the refrigerator, in cold water and in a microwave oven. The best way to thaw a turkey, officials say, is to refrigerate for several days before preparing and then in cold water if needed the day of preparation.

Make sure to use clean utensils, hands and surfaces when preparing your turkey and make sure it does not come in direct contact with other foods. When stuffing a turkey, it is best to cook stuffing outside the turkey first such as in a casserole dish and add stuffing to turkey just before cooking. Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees or greater.

When cooking the turkey, make sure to set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees and be sure it is completely thawed before placing in the oven. Place the turkey breast side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow pan and cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Let the turkey stand for at least 20 minutes before removing all stuffing and carving the meat.

For additional information on safe cooking temperatures, you can visit the section on safe cooking temperatures online at www.foodsafety.gov.

The driver of a tractor trailer who caused a crash on Interstate 75 in Whitley County this past Thursday has been charged with driving under the influence. Police say 54 year old Richard Van Lannen of Wisconsin was driving under the influence when he lost control of his tractor trailer near Williamsburg. The truck then hit a cable carrier, went into the median and then back into the southbound lanes of I-75 where it struck an SUV. No injuries were reported from the crash but the cleanup and investigation did stall traffic for some time on the interstate. Police found prescription medicine and alcohol in the tractor trailer.

The McCreary County Board of Education will hold a special session this evening (Monday November 23rd) with the only items on the agenda being annual reports from each local school. Board policy requires each school to present an annual report detailing their progress and goals and plans for achieving those goals. Pine Knot Primary, Pine Knot Intermediate, Whitley City Elementary, McCreary County Middle and McCreary Central High School will all deliver their reports during the special session at the board office this evening at 6:00pm.

'Tis the season for holiday decorating. With Thanksgiving almost here and Christmas just a few short weeks away, the McCreary County Tourist Commission is encouraging the decorating of residences and businesses in the community as part of a “Christmas Trail.” A contest is underway with a trophy for grand prize to be awarded in two categories, residential and business. In addition, a “people's choice” voting will be held in early December through Facebook to award a separate trophy and bragging rights. It is free to enter the contest by simply completing a registration form and submitting to the McCreary County Tourism office no later than 4:00pm Friday December 4th. In addition to the decorating, the McCreary County “Christmas Trail” includes various activities including the Courthouse tree lighting on December 4th at 6:00pm, Craft Fair in downtown Whitley City Saturday December 5th from 10:00am-2:00pm and open house at the Mountain Craft Center on Highway 90 December 11th through 13th. For information contact the tourism office or following the Visit McCreary page on Facebook.

For several weeks, law enforcement officials have been warning residents across Kentucky about a scam involving the Internal Revenue Service and calls or e-mails to targeted victims. Despite those warnings, it appears people continue to fall victim to the scam, which is most cases involves a caller stating they are with the IRS and that the victim owes back taxes and penalties. The caller continues that if the amount is not immediately settled and paid, the victim could face legal action, loss of their drivers' license, foreclosure on property and other penalties. The IRS reports that these are scam phone calls, adding that they do not call individuals about back taxes and would instead send correspondence in the mail. Scammers can, using today's technology, alter caller ID displays to show that a call is coming from the IRS, when it is not actually a legitimate call. Anyone receiving a call claiming to be from the IRS is urged to hang up and report suspicious activity to the US Treasury Inspector General at 800-366-4484. Remember, you should never give credit card or bank account information over the phone unless you have initiated the contact and never send cash through the mail.

The McCreary County Public Library is again doing its part to collect food donations for those in need just ahead of the holiday season. For the remainder of November and throughout the month of December, anyone making non-perishable food item donations at the library can have any overdue fines on their account excused. A donation box is currently located at the library and a donation will excuse fines on any library material including books, audio, video and more no matter how long overdue the fines are. Library Director Kay Morrow said this week that there are two main reasons for continuing this program each year. First, she said, there are a number of library materials that are still overdue and they would like to get those back into the local facility so they can be loaned out to other patrons. Secondly, the library wants to do what it can to assist local individuals and families in need this holiday with the basic need of food. Items collected will be distributed locally through the food pantry, according to Morrow. For information on the program, which runs through December, stop by the McCreary County Public Library, call 376-8738 or visit www.mccrearylibrary.org. You can also visit the library's Facebook page.

Following the release of the 2014-2015 Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress results for the McCreary County School District, school personnel looked at ways to take advantage of the momentum of an upswing in test results from last year. The school district partnered with the education consulting group South Eastern South Central to schedule a “Data Retreat” to set new goals for improvement and set out a path to achieve those goals. Representatives from each school in the district, including principals and teachers, as well as central office personnel, took part in the four day event where the focus was on analyzing the test results data from past years, improving the working relationship between school leadership and district leadership, and work to build the district Comprehensive Improvement Plan moving forward. For more information on the retreat and other news from the McCreary County School District, visit their website www.mccreary.k12.ky.us and click on the “District News” link.

With the holidays nearly here, McCreary County is gearing up for the season with many activities scheduled. Among the events is a Christmas tree lighting at the McCreary County Museum in Stearns on Saturday November 28th followed by a Christmas tree lighting on the lawn of the McCreary County Courthouse Friday December 4th. That event will include a performance by the McCreary Central High School Band, who have their annual Christmas concert at the high school scheduled for Tuesday December 15th at 7:00pm. The Christmas choir concert at the high school will be Thursday December 10th at 7:00pm.

The annual “Cram the Cruiser” food drive is set to begin this Friday November 20th across the state, sponsored by the Kentucky State Police. Each year, the KSP hosts the drive at each of its post locations in Kentucky where a police cruiser is parked and “crammed” full of food item donations. Those donations are then distributed just before Christmas to food pantries and food banks across the state for those in need. The food drive will officially run from November 20th through December 11th. Non-perishable food items are being sought including items like canned fruits and vegetables, macaroni and cheese, cereal, peanut butter, canned soups, coffee, water, powdered milk and more. The program started in 2010 and has contributed more than 500,000 pounds of food to those in need in the state since then. For information on the program and post locations, including the London post, visit the Kentucky State Police website at www.kentuckystatepolice.org.

The McCreary County Board of Education recently began the process of selecting a new Schools Superintendent by contracting with the Kentucky School Board Association to lead them through that process. The next step is the naming of a screening committee which will advertise the position, screen applicants and conduct interviews before making recommendations back to the school board, who will have the final saying in hiring a new school chief. The committee, by state law, must consist of two teachers from the school district elected by their fellow teachers; one board of education member appointed by the school board chairman; one principal elected by the principals of the district; one parent elected by the presidents of the parent-teacher organizations of each school; and one classified employee elected by classified employees of the district. State law does specify that before appointing a new superintendent, the school board shall consider the recommendations of the screening committee but are not required to make their appointment based on those recommendations.

Officials with the Kentucky State Police have issued warnings to the motorists of the state to be mindful and use caution during this time which is mating and hunting season for deer. Each year, about 1.6 million collisions occur involving deer and vehicles and that about 150 deaths also occur each year from those types of accidents. Kentucky recorded more than 3,000 vehicle-deer crashes last year, with three people killed and 115 injured in the state. Early morning and evening are the times to use the most caution, according to law enforcement officials, due to an increase in activity and mobility of deer during those times. Remember, if you see one deer by the road or crossing the road, there are likely more nearby as they often travel in herds. Drivers who see deer are urged to slow down, use caution and do not swerve.

Calls began coming in to the McCreary County 911 dispatch center just before 11:00am Sunday morning as flames could be seen rising from a Whitley City home. Fire crews responded within minutes and began battling the blaze at the corner of Cain Road and Williamsburg Street, just across from the Whitley City First Baptist Church where Sunday morning services were underway. A second fire nearby was also reported on Williamsburg Street on the other side of US Highway 27 and reportedly damaged a structure and a barn. The house on Cain Road was essentially a total loss as the fire spread quickly before it could be brought under control. The incident stalled and detoured traffic in the area for several hours. The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation with several fire and emergency service agencies working the scene.

The discovery of a woman's body in an apartment on Crisp Court in Williamsburg Friday prompted a death investigation that authorities say is pointing to foul play. 29 year old Amy Freeman was found dead in the apartment which she occupied by herself, say investigators, who add that the exact cause of death and further details are awaiting the results of an autopsy performed over the weekend. The Williamsburg Police Department is leading the investigation and say the woman had not been seen alive in some time and may have been dead in the apartment for at least several days.

The months of November and December are traditionally busy for most with the holiday season upon us, but the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce also has several busy weeks in store for its members. The Chamber will host its regular monthly meeting this Wednesday November 18th at 12:00pm upstairs at the McCreary County Public Library, with Frances Click from the Trust for Life Organ Donor Awareness Program as the guest speaker. Lunch will be catered by Whistle Stop Cafe for a $5.00 charge per person. The Chamber will next host first annual “Small Business Saturday” and “Shop Local Week” beginning Saturday November 28th and running through Saturday December 5th. Local residents are encouraged to shop locally that week in hopes it will begin habits that will carry over through the year.

The Chamber is also encouraging attendance at a “Legislative Meet & Greet” at the McCreary County Public Library Wednesday December 16th starting at 10:30am. That will be followed by the Chamber's regular meeting that day at 12noon which will be hosted by the Pine Knot Job Corps and catered by their culinary arts students at a cost of $8.00 per person. The Chamber asks that those who plan to attend RSVP to the Chamber by December 8th.

The Chamber will sponsor an open house at Whistle Stop Cafe in Stearns Thursday evening December 10th starting at 5:00pm.

The McCreary County Chamber of Commerce is also co-sponsoring the McCreary County “Christmas Trail” decorating challenge this year with local businesses and residences encouraged to enter at no cost, decorate and possibly claim a first prize trophy and bragging rights for the next year. Simply stop by the tourism office afternoons from 12:30-4:30pm, call 376-3008 or e-mail tourism@mccrearycounty.com to enter by December 1st.

For more information the activities of the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce, like their Facebook page or visit www.mccrearychamber.com.

A man who is accused of impersonating a federal police officer in at least two counties has now been arrested by real police officers. Reports filtered in over more than a week from Wayne County and McCreary County of a man with a fake badge and firearm claiming to be a federal officer and even stopping several motorists with a blue light on his truck. The investigation into the claims led authorities to arrest James R. Jones of Marshes Siding at his residence. He has been charged with 9 counts of impersonating a peace officer. A pair of handcuffs and the badge were reportedly confiscated at the time of the arrest. Jones was lodged in the Wayne County Detention Center as the investigation continues and additional charges may be pending.

During their regular meeting last Thursday night, the McCreary County Fiscal Court discussed the issue of the county jail, or the lack thereof, and whether there is any possibility of a jail in the county again. The discussion began when County Attorney Conley Chaney urged the court to take every step possible to examine the issue and determine the most convenient and most cost effective way to deal with local inmate housing. Some in attendance said they believe the county could operate its own jail cheaper than transporting inmates to other counties, while others say they believe the county would spend more money with its own jail. It was noted that the cost of building a new jail could start at the low end of $6 million and could be much more than that, even if the state would permit a new jail. Jailer Jesse Hatfield said he had recently spoken with officials with the Department of Corrections and was told that the county's jail would never reopen. It seemed some of that was based on the history of the current jail which was mismanaged and became “run down” over a number of years.

Deputy Judge Executive Andrew Powell discussed his position on the jail, stating that he felt the county had not done what it needed to in terms of providing the state with a plan of corrective action to show how the county planned to deal with those past management issues. He echoed comments by Jailer Hatfield in saying that county officials have been told that McCreary County will likely never have its own jail again.

Chaney told the court they needed to explore all options from other counties for the best deal in housing inmates. Other options discussed included the use of the courthouse to hold inmates for up to four hours, allowing them the chance to potentially “bond out” before the county goes to the expense of transporting and housing them in another county. An increase in community service sentencing was also mentioned as a way of saving the county money.

The new SOAR initiative, which stands for “Shaping Our Appalachian Region”, is seeking grant proposals from communities across southern and eastern Kentucky for economic development projects. The McCreary County Fiscal Court approved a resolution last week in support of a grant application from the county for up to $250,000. Deputy Judge Andrew Powell noted that a specific project had not yet been identified but that the deadline for proposals is December 18th and projects need to benefit the region, rather than just one community or county. He added that grants can be approved for up to $250,000, but noted that there is only $2 million the total pot of funding for the grants this year, meaning there could be steep competition for those grants. Court members were asked to submit any ideas or proposals for the potential grant application from McCreary County.

A joint effort of the National Park Service, McCreary County Museum and Whistle Stop Cafe will bring Michael Nagle to Stearns this Sunday afternoon, November 15th. Mr. Nagle is the author of a new book called “Justus S. Stearns: Michigan Pine Knot and Kentucky Coal Baron, 1845-1933.” We previously reported on the recent release of the book which details the life and business dealings of Stearns, for whom the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company and the community of Stearns were named. The program this Sunday will begin at 1:30pm inside the train depot in Stearns and will include a discussion on the book and a chance for those in attendance to purchase and have copies of the book signed. The event is free to attend.

The McCreary County Public Library will again play host this year to “The Giving Tree” to benefit children in the local community. The project is co-sponsored by McCreary County Schools Community Education and Volunteers in Public Schools program and allows patrons of the public library to hang items on the tree, or give them to staff at the library, to then distribute to local children this holiday season. Items accepted include hats, scarves, gloves, socks and mittens. The tree will be in place at the library from this Monday November 16th through December 18th. Items may also be left with David Matthews at the Community Education/Volunteers in Public Schools office in the middle building of the former McCreary County Preschool in Pine Knot.

The McCreary County Fiscal Court will meet in regular session this evening (Thursday November 12th) at 6:00pm. The court meetings are open to the public and held in the upstairs courtroom, adjacent to the Judge Executive's Office at the courthouse. The court meets the second Thursday of each month. You can follow court meeting schedules and look up court meeting minutes, as well as monthly financial statements and more, at www.mccrearycounty.com.

The Charles E. Moore VFW Post 5127 hosted a Veterans' Day ceremony on the steps of the McCreary County Courthouse Wednesday morning. Taking part were members from the post, McCreary Central High School Junior ROTC students and students from the Lower Hickory Grove Christian Academy. Ceremonies and special programs have also been held over the last several days at local schools, the McCreary Center and American Legion Post 115 in Stearns.

McCreary County's Christmas celebration known as “WinterFest” will take on a different look this year with some different activities planned throughout the month of December. The official holiday season in McCreary County will kick off with a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on the courthouse lawn Friday evening December 4th starting at 6:00pm. A performance by the McCreary Central High School Band will be included. Saturday December 5th will bring a “WinterFest Craft Fair” held inside Milton's Catering Hall, between the Uptown Opry and United Cumberland Bank in downtown Whitley City. That event will run from 10:00am to 2:00pm with local crafters setting up to display, demonstrate and sell their items just in time for local holiday shopping. Other holiday craft events include a special Christmas open house at Tower Crafts in Stearns on December 5th, and a Christmas open with events at the Mountain Craft Center on Highway 90 Friday December 11th through sunday December 13th. A WinterFest Pageant is planned for Sunday December 13th at McCreary County Middle School and a countywide decorating challenge is being held for residential and business entries. “A Trail Town Christmas” is being held in Stearns including “Santa Express” train rides on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway each Saturday November 28th through December 19th, as well as business open houses and other activities. The “WinterFest” season will conclude with the annual “Banquet of Blessings” being held at McCreary Middle School on Thursday December 24th. For more information on all the WinterFest activities in McCreary County, follow the tourism Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Visit.McCreary, e-mail tourism@mccrearycounty.com, or call the tourism office at 376-3008.

The project to add turning lanes to Highway 27 in Whitley City turning into the McCreary Center college campus has been delayed due to weather conditions over the the last several weeks. When the project began, officials said the projected completion date was going to be mid-November. Amber Hale, public information officer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's District 8 out of Somerset, says that with the delays the project is now expected to be completed within about three to four weeks, depending on weather conditions moving forward. That would put the completion of the project in early December and will provide turning lanes into the college campus from both directions.

Many have wondered for years why seat belt use was not required on school buses. In fact, currently, only six states in the United States require seat belts to be installed and used on buses. The number on reason for this is likely the cost involved in installing them on every bus. Estimates put the cost at between $7,000 and $10,000 per bus, with nearly half a million school buses in use across America. Despite the enormous cost involved, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now renewing its push to require the use of belts on buses in every state. They say that four children die every year in large school bus crashes and the agency believes that seat belts could cut that number at least in half. Officials say the only way to require the use of seat belts on buses is with new regulations and laws and that the effort could take up to a decade, considering the vast cost and reluctance by budget makers to fund the project.

Each year, volunteers come together to organize and host the “Banquet of Blessings”, which is a free community Christmas dinner for those in need in McCreary County. This year, the non-profit group “Neighbors Hope Outreach” has gotten involved in sponsoring the event which will be held Thursday December 24th, Christmas Eve Day, at McCreary County Middle School. Free meals will be served for those in need in the school cafeteria from 11:00am-4:00pm and meals will even be delivered to those who are unable to attend due to various circumstances including health or lack of transportation. Event organizers are currently reaching out to various community groups and churches for help in terms of volunteers and donations to make the event possible and sustainable for future years, and also for submission of names of those who may be in need of a meal on Christmas Eve. Volunteers were out this past Sunday picking up garbage along East Appletree, Lower Shirt Factory, Valley Road and Wilburn K Ross Highway as a fundraiser for the event through the county litter abatement program.

Banquet of Blessings” started several years ago when the late Jack Koger, then a member of the McCrearyFest committee, suggested having a meal at Christmas for needy families and children. The group teamed with Fred Berkowitz, who at the time was doing free meals through his job as a manager with Burger King. The event was formed and sponsored by McCrearyFest until this year when the organization turned the project over to “Neighbors Hope Outreach” to continue.

Those who would like to help in any way or submit names of individuals or families in need can look up the “Banquet of Blessings” facebook page at www.facebook.com/McCrearyBlessings or call the McCreary County Tourism office between 12:30-4:30pm at 376-3008.

The latest figures from the McCreary County Occupational Tax continue to show an upward trend in collections on a month-to-month basis, however county officials warn that this may not necessarily indicate an overall increase in annual collections. In October of this year, last month's numbers, the county collected $112,738.79 from the tax, which was up from about $95,000 for the same month in 2014, about $92,000 in 2013 and just $77,000 in 2012. During recent fiscal court meetings, Magistrate Roger Phillips has been quick to point out that the monthly collections are up but much of that may be due to more federal employees now having the tax deducted from each pay check, something that was not an option previously. That meant that federal employees paid their tax for the full year rather than spread out throughout the year. So, while each month the county may see more coming in from the tax, the bottom line collections for the year may or may not increase. Of the $112,738 collected last month, about $4,716 goes for administrative expenses, including things like the tax administrator's salary, benefits and office expenses, with the remaining $108,000 used to in the county General Fund for various expenses and projects. For the monthly summary of tax collections and other information on the McCreary County Occupational Tax, visit the tax page online at tax.mccrearycounty.com.

Officials with the Daniel Boone National Forest have announced plans to waive certain recreational fees this week in honor of Veterans' Day, which will be this Wednesday November 11th. In McCreary County, camping fees for Wednesday are waived at the Barren Fork Horse Camp with fees also waived at the Appletree Shooting Range and the Natural Arch Scenic Area. A number of other areas in the Daniel Boone will also have fees waived. For complete information on Veterans' Day programs in the forest, call (859)745-3100 or visit the forest website at fs.usda.gov/dbnf. You can also call the Stearns District of the forest at 376-5323.

A McCreary County man was recently arrested and charged with an alleged rape that authorities say took place on November 1st. The McCreary County Voice reports on the accusations against 45 year old Delford Smith of Stearns. The report indicates that sheriff's deputies were called to a residence on West Highway 92 at about 11:00pm that Sunday night where they determined that a woman was claiming to have been raped by Smith and held against her will. She was eventually able to escape from the man and flee for help. Smith was arrested and charged with rape first degree with additional charges possible as the investigation continues. Investigators told The Voice that Delford Smith does have a criminal history for domestic violence. McCreary County Sheriff's Deputy Odell Smith is leading the investigation with assistance at the scene by Kentucky State Police.

This Wednesday, November 11th, with be Veterans' Day with ceremonies and programs held across America to honor and recognize those men and women who have fought and, in many cases died, for our freedom. McCreary County will honor its veterans this week with several special programs and events. Included will be a free chili supper with entertainment for all veterans and their families at the McCreary County Senior Citizens Center gym at the county park this evening (Monday November 9th) from 4:00-8:00pm. Many local schools and the McCreary Center Campus are holding special ceremonies this week and American Legion Post 115 in Stearns will have a special ceremony at their post on Wednesday. The Charles E. Moore VFW Post will also host a Veterans Days ceremony at the McCreary County Courthouse this Wednesday at 11:00am.

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is also honoring veterans by waiving some recreational fees on November 11th, Veterans' Day, including free camping at Alum Ford Campground in McCreary County. For additional information on Veterans' Day recognition in the Big South Fork, call 423-286-7275 or visit the park's website at www.nps.gov/biso.

Kentucky State Police are investigating the death of a three month old infant from the Stearns area in McCreary County. Police were called to the home on South Highway 1651 Wednesday evening where they found the child's mother performing CPR. Police and eventually EMS personnel took over with CPR efforts, but all were unsuccessful and the child was pronounced dead by the McCreary County Coroner's Office. The cause of death has not been determined, but investigators say foul play is not suspected at this time. An autopsy was scheduled as the investigation continues.


Click here to download the complete final report dated Oct. 27, 2015 (pdf)

Click here to download the McCreary School District Response (Nov. 4, 2015) (pdf)

In part three of our look at the final report on the McCreary County Board of Education by the Kentucky General Assembly Office of Education Accountability, one of the final sections in the report focuses on Acting Superintendent Mike Cash and his role with the school board. The report states that a large majority of people interviewed by investigators felt that Mr. Cash was “in control of the board of education” even prior to being named to his current post. The report outlines a number of e-mails reportedly exchanged between school board member Brandon Kidd and Mr. Cash over many months and reports that Mr. Kidd frequently visited Mr. Cash's home over the same period. Many interviewed told investigators that school board member Debbie Gibson was telling people that Mr. Cash will be the next superintendent. The reports also focuses on a period of time that Mr. Cash was assigned to the central office and reportedly told staff members that things were going to get bad and there would be big changes, adding that Cash allegedly said himself that the board members do what he wants them to do.

In an instance of Mike Cash reportedly interfering in staffing issues, the report says that in January of this year, Cash told the director of special education that she should retire, stating he already had been asked to place another individual in her position. The board later cut the director's salary, after which she resigned in protest. When Cash was named Acting Superintendent, he brought in a special education teacher to perform some duties formerly performed by the director. The report indicates that teacher is not certified as a Director of Special Education.

The Office of Education Accountability also reports requesting e-mail boxes from several officials including Donnie Wright, Aaron Anderson, Mike Cash, Foster Jones and Robert Jones, covering a period from 2013 to 2015. The report states that the “sent” folder was empty in Mike Cash and Foster Jones e-mail accounts, leaving no record of sent e-mails from the two in a two and a half year period.

In the conclusion of the report, investigators say it was revealed that Brandon Kidd was taking information from finance officials in the school district to then “...develop a budget proposal based on the desires of Mr. Cash.” It was also concluded that by sending e-mails to staff about their work schedules and going to the preschool without board approval, Debbie Gibson stepped outside her authority as a school board member. The report cites state law that specifies the duties and authority of the superintendent and school board members.

Under “resolutions” the report again cites KRS 156/132 (1) which refers to the authority of the chief state school officer to take action, including removal of school board members and school officials.

The complete report on the local school board as well as a response from the McCreary County School District on the report are posted on our “News Update” page at www.hay98.com. The response from the school district was e-mail to the radio station by the central office but was not signed by a particular official with the district.

The voter turnout in McCreary County was well below the state's turnout for this past Tuesday's General Election. While about 30% of the state's registered voters cast a ballot, fewer than 20% of McCreary County's voters made the effort. The county went overwhelmingly for all Republican candidates in the statewide races including voting for Matt Bevin for Governor over Jack Conway and Independent Drew Curtis. Statewide, the night was won by Republicans with four out of six races picked up by the GOP. Democrats winning were Andy Beshear for Attorney General and Alison Lundergan Grimes for Secretary of State. Republican winners were Bevin for Governor, Alison Ball for Treasurer, Ryan Quarles for Agriculture Commissioner and Mike Harmon for Auditor.

One pressing issue which will be watched in Bevin's early days as Governor will be whether he follows through on plans he announced early in his campaign to dismantle Kynect, eliminate Kentucky's Medicaid expansion, and force hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians to potentially look for different health coverage options.

The final report issued last week on an investigation into the McCreary County Board of Education by the General Assembly Office of Education Accountability seems to outline various issues with school board members interfering with staff and positions in the school district. One issue outlined under the current year's budget discusses cuts made by the board, including several positions that were abolished, including instructional supervisor positions. One specific position highlighted in the report was that of Tim Moore, who was serving as an instructional supervisor. The report indicates, based on interviews through the investigation, that school board member Brandon Kidd stated that “...Tim Moore had to go because of the fear that Moore may get the superintendent job over Mike Cash.”

In discussing the budget cuts in investigative interviews, school board member Debbie Gibson said that she felt with common core curriculum in place, principals could take over the duties previously handled by instructional supervisors. When asked how that could happen with the cut in days put in the budget for the principal positions, Gibson said she felt the principals and staff would still work to do what needed done, whether they were paid or not. The report indicates that she was not concerned that school district employees would be volunteering time to complete their required work. She stated that the impact on student achievement was discussed in a board meeting before voting. However, the report includes comments from school board member Nelda Gilreath about raising the student/teacher ratio at the high school, which she indicated she did not even know had taken place. Gilreath noted that the impact on student learning was not discussed before the vote.

Other issues outlined in the final report include member Debbie Gibson going unannounced to the McCreary County Preschool, where she reportedly disrupted classroom activities and took pictures of the building.

The report also outlines a possible violation of open meetings laws by the board. In March 2015, the report shows that a closed session of the school board was held with citizens allowed in to discuss incidents of bullying which they believed were inappropriately handled by the district. The report states that the meeting “...does not appear to fall within exceptions for open meetings.” In addition, a hiring freeze in the district was reportedly discussed via e-mail between the board and board attorney. Before the attorney could respond with advice on proceeding, it is noted that Brandon Kidd e-mailed back to all involved stating how the the issue would be handled, thus conducting a meeting inappropriately by e-mail.

We previously reported on preliminary reports issued by the Kentucky General Assembly Office of Education Accountability on two local school board members. Those reports accused members Brandon Kidd and Debbie Gibson of acting outside their statutory authority as board members and recommended possible action, including removal, to the Kentucky Department of Education. While the department has not responded or acted on those recommendations as of yet, the Office of Education Accountability has now released its “Investigative Final Report” dated October 27th regarding the McCreary County Board of Education and McCreary County School District.

The report states that staff with the office visited the McCreary County School District in June of this year where they interviewed about 30 individuals including principals, central office staff, and board members and also gathered documents from the parties involved. They also report reviewing minutes and videos from school board meetings and reviewing responses received through the school board members' attorney. All of this information was reportedly taken into consideration for the final report.

The allegation outlined in the report is as follows:

The McCreary County Board as a whole are violating KRS 160.290 by failing to use district resources for the promotion of public education and general health and welfare of the pupils in the district and by usurping the statutory authority of the superintendent pursuant to KRS 160.370 and KRS 160.390.”

The report lists what it calls “facts” in the case and as part of that summary states “...the atmosphere and environment in the McCreary County School District can only be described as toxic and detrimental to the public education of the children of the county.” The report further states that staff from the Office of Education Accountability “encountered so much distrust and fear among the staff in the district that is caused concern about the ability of the district to educate its children.”

One area outlined in the report is the issue of money saving measures implemented over several years in the school district. The report indicates that certain board members were determined to save the McCreary Academy, also referred to as the alternative school, at nearly any other cost including proposals by board members to cut office positions, cut principal days, and cut all district employees by one day. One issue of disagreement in the district was the transition of the Academy into the high school to save money. The report states that in October 2014, Mike Cash, who had previously served as Academy principal but was moved to the Pine Knot Career Institute at the Pine Knot Job Corps Center, was removed from the Job Corps campus by the program's federal director. This was followed the next month by a push by board members Brandon Kidd and Debbie Gibson to move the Academy back to the middle school and to create a principal position. Cash was ultimately hired into that position. The report states “students were moved from MCHS to the basement of MCMS without adequate staff, textbooks, furniture, etc...in place to support them. Their educational programs were completely disrupted for Mr. Cash's benefit.”

Despite budget concerns and the need for cuts in other areas, the report states that in January 2015 the school board voted to approve nine full time positions for the Academy plus the full time principal position already approved. While only 34 students were enrolled in the Academy at the time, Ms. Gibson told investigators that so many positions were approved in “hopes” that there would be increase enrollment. A response to the report by the school board states that enrollment was 86, however investigators say that everyone interviewed during the on site visit to the district agreed that the enrollment was actually 34.

To further emphasize the board's focus on the Academy, two additional special called board meetings in January and February of this year included the abolishing of an instructional supervisor position with those funds reallocated to the Academy and approval to use capital funds to pay a worker's compensation premium and pay the salary and benefits for several positions at the Academy.

In the coming days, we will continue the review of the final report from the Office of Education Accountability and will have the full report posted with a link on our “News Update” page at www.hay98.com.

An August incident has led to formal charges against a McCreary County man. The McCreary County Grand Jury returned an indictment this past month against Timothy Coffey of Stearns for allegedly kidnapping a woman on August 3rd. He is further accused of striking the woman numerous times, dragging her around by an extension cord that was tied to her body and causing physical injury. He also reportedly threatened to kill her during the ordeal. Official charges against Coffey include three counts of kidnapping, assault and terroristic threatening. Listeners are reminded that an indictment by the grand jury is not a finding of guilt, but is a formal charge against a suspect in a case.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, will begin taking applications from households this Wednesday November 4th. In McCreary County, households may apply at the Lake Cumberland Community Action Agency office at 431 Big M Plaza in Whitley City on their scheduled day. Applications are taken in alphabetical order based on the first letter of the head of household's last name, starting with the letter “A” on Wednesday, “B” this Thursday and Friday, “C” on Monday November 9th and Tuesday November 10th, “D” & “E” Thursday November 12th and “F” on Friday November 13th. The schedule will continue through December 10th, after which an open date will be set for December 11th for those who may have missed their scheduled day. When applying, bring your most recent heating bill or verification that heating expenses are included in your rent; social security numbers for each household member; and proof of all household income for the preceding month. For information call the local Community Action Agency office at 376-2593.

November 1st signaled the beginning of open enrollment for health coverage through Kynect, Kentucky's healthcare exchange program, for 2016. Open enrollment will continue through mid-December, with those wanting coverage in place at the start of the new year advised to enroll and sign up for a health plan prior to December 15th. Information and enrollment applications can be found online at kynect.ky.gov and representatives from Kynect will be back in McCreary County to meet with interested residents, answer questions and assist with the enrollment process on Thursday November 12th from 10:00am-2:00pm at the McCreary County Tourism and Economic Development office in Whitley City. No appointment is necessary, but you are advised to income and other household documentation with you when meeting with the Kynect representative. You are reminded that the penalty for not having health coverage increases each year. With Kentucky's Medicaid expansion, more individuals and families now qualify for free coverage, as well as discounted policies.

Tomorrow, Tuesday November 3
rd, will be General Election Day with voters across Kentucky heading to the polls to vote for a number of statewide races. Voter turnout is expected to be light, but some important races will be decided including the race for Kentucky Governor with three candidates on the ballot. Democrat Jack Conway, Republican Matt Bevin and Independent Drew Curtis are all seeking votes in that race. Polls will be open from 6:00am to 6:00pm tomorrow at precincts across Kentucky, including all 18 precincts in McCreary County. For information on voting eligibility or voting locations, contact the McCreary County Clerk's Office. Voter registration can also be checked online at elect.ky.gov. Remember, McCreary County Schools will be closed Tuesday for Election Day.

The McCreary County Board of Education will meet in special session this evening 9Monday November 2nd) as they officially begin the process of searching for a new superintendent. The board recently voted to hire the Kentucky School Board Association to lead them through the search process and will meet with Tim Eaton of the association during the meeting tonight. The position will have to be advertised with interviews conducted by a search committee before the school board will make the final decision on hiring a new leader for the local school district. Arthur “Donnie” Wright is still officially the school system's superintendent, although he has been on leave for several months and will continue in that status through the end of the calendar year. Mike Cash is currently serving as “Acting” superintendent until a formal replacement is hired and in place. Also on the agenda for tonight's school board meeting is approval of Kentucky School Board Association First Degree College Scholarship Nominees Matthew Sargent and Chelsea Newsom as well as approval of emergency certification for career and technical occupation based position and a full time emergency substitute position. The board meeting this evening will begin at 6:30pm at the board office on Raider Way in Stearns.

McCreary County Sheriff's Deputy Odell Smith reportedly stopped an S-10 pick up truck in Pine Knot last Wednesday morning. According to The McCreary County Voice, two men inside the vehicle allegedly threw small bags out of the truck as they stopped. The bags were recovered by officers on the scene who said it was believed they contained methamphetamine. Both men, identified as Tex Monroe and Larry Myers, were arrested and charged with trafficking and possession of drugs, as well as traffic offenses. The McCreary County Sheriff's Department was assisted at the scene by Kentucky State Police, and School Resource Officers.

This weekend will be the final days before the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area shifts to its winter schedule for its facilities. According to park officials, some facilities will be closed for the next several months while others will see reduced operations hours. In McCreary County, the Blue Heron Bookstore and Interpretive Center will be closed after this Saturday October 31st and will remain closed until early spring next year. The Blue Heron Mining Camp remains open year round and is accessible for visitors whenever road conditions allow for safe access. The park visitor center just off Wilburn K Ross Highway in Stearns has already closed for the season and will not reopen until next May. Some campgrounds in the park, including Blue Heron, Bear Creek and Bandy Creek, remain open on a first come, first served basis through the end of November when they will also close for winter. The Alum Ford Campground remains open all year. In Tennessee, the Bandy Creek Visitor Center is now on reduced hours through the winter but will remain open. For additional information on park facilities and their operating hours on the winter schedule, call the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at 423-286-7275 or visit the park's website at www.nps.gov/biso.

With Halloween coming this weekend, officials with the Kentucky State Police have issued some tips to make it a safe and happy holiday. Parents and caregivers should make sure children dress in light colored costumes that are easily visible; carry flashlights or glow sticks; use paint or make up rather than masks that can impair vision; wear flame resistant costumes that are well fitting; be accompanied by adults; only eat candy after it has been inspected by an adult; and only trick-or-treat at homes and locations you are familiar with. Trick-or-treaters should be cautious of strangers and only visit homes they know. Only visit homes with a porch light turned on; watch carefully if crossing streets; keep away from open flames and burning candles; have an adult check all candy before eating. Motorists should watch for increased pedestrian traffic on Halloween night; slow down and give children space to cross streets; watch for vehicles parked along streets; and enter and exit driveways carefully. Homeowners can help make it a safe Halloween by keeping their porch light on; removing wet leaves from walkways; keep dried leaves and other materials away from open flames and candles; and watch decorations to ensure they do not come close to flames. Remember to observe and follow the official Halloween Trick-or-Treating hours, which for McCreary County will be this Saturday October 31st from 5:00-8:00pm.

An incident that began with police called to the scene of a shooting in Pulaksi County early Sunday morning ended with a man charged with numerous offenses after a high speed chase. Officers were called to the Shopville area where they found a victim who had been shot but was able to give a description of the shooter to police. The suspect's vehicle was spotted by officers and a chase ensued along Kentucky Highway 80 at speeds exceeding 120 miles per hour. Eventually, the car stopped after losing control on Pumphouse Road. 35 year old Bret Crozier was arrested and charged with various offenses ranging from speeding and wanton endangerment to tampering with physical evidence and a parole violation. He has not been charged with the shooting but is considered the prime suspect in the case with charges possible, according to police. The victim of the shooting was treated at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset.

This week is the final week for McCreary County property owners to pay their 2015 property taxes at a discounted rate. Payments can be made through this week at a 2% discount at the McCreary County Sheriff's Office in the Courthouse Annex building in Whitley City. Beginning next week, payments will be due at face amount of the bill through the end of the year, after which penalties will be added. Payments can be made at the office during regular office hours or can be mailed to the office. Those wishing a receipt should include a self addressed stamped envelope. Property owners can also look up their tax bill online using a link on the McCreary County Sheriff's Department website at www.mccrearysheriff.com.

As the investigation into a double shooting in Pulaski County this past weekend continues, additional details have been released by Kentucky State Police. Initial reports indicated the two men shot Saturday evening may have been in an argument and shot each other, however police say it appears both were shot by another man who fled the scene in a white vehicle. The victims, identified as 24 year old Diego Martinez, and 23 year old Samuei Flores, were both airlifted to UK Medical Center in Lexington for treatment. Police say they do have a possible suspect in the case and are continuing their investigation.

Officials with the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area have announced that a McCreary County vendor has been added to the approved list of firewood providers within the park. Roger Branscum of Whitley City now has an official permit issued by the Big South Fork allowing him to sell firewood in the park. Due to firewood quarantine regulations, park officials say firewood may not be brought in from outside areas, increasing the demand for firewood and the need for approved vendors within the park. Mr. Branscum does provide delivery services for firewood and can be reached at 606-516-2031. Firewood sells for $5.00 per bundle of seven logs.

Veterans' Day across America is now two weeks away on Wednesday November 11th with a number of activities planned to help celebrate and honor those who have served this country. The Charles E Moore VFW Post 5127 will host a ceremony November 11th at 11:00am on the lawn of the McCreary County Courthouse while American Legion Post 115 in Stearns will also be hosting a ceremony that day at their post. Several of the local schools will also be hosting special veterans programs in the days leading up to Veterans Day and Lower Hickory Grove Christian Academy is offering a musical tribute to veterans this Thursday October 29th at 6:00pm at the McCreary County Park in the community center building gym. The annual chili supper and celebration, which is free and open to veterans and their families, will be held Monday November 9th from 4:00 to 8:00pm at the McCreary County Senior Citizens Center at the park. There will be entertainment in addition to the free meal.

The Big South Fork is also honoring veterans by waiving some recreational fees on November 11th, Veterans' Day, including free camping at Alum Ford Campground in McCreary County. For additional information on Veterans' Day recognition in the Big South Fork, call 423-286-7275 or visit the park's website at www.nps.gov/biso.

With just one week remaining until Kentucky residents head to the polls to vote, absentee voting is already underway. Those who will be out of town on Election Day or will be unable to go to the polls next Tuesday November 3rd, can vote absentee in the McCreary County Clerk's Office during normal office hours. Polls will be open next Tuesday at all 18 precinct voting locations in McCreary County from 6:00am to 6:00pm with a number of statewide races on the ballot. Included is the race for Kentucky Governor, which options include Republican Matt Bevin with running mate Jenean Hampton, Democrat Jack Conway and running mate Sannie Overly and Independent Drew Curtis with his running mate, and wife, Heather Curtis. The race for Secretary of State puts Republican Stephen L. Knipper against Democratic incumbent Alison Lundergan Grimes. Republican Whitney Westerfield is running for Attorney General and faces Democrat Andy Beshear, son of current Governor Steve Beshear. The race for Auditor of Public Accounts puts Republican Mike Harmon against Democrat Adam Edelen, the current Auditor. In the race for State Treasurer, Republican Allison Ball is running against Democrat Rick Nelson and in the race for Commissioner of Agriculture the candidates include Republican Ryan Quarles and Democrat Jean-Marie Lawson-Spann. Contact your local county clerk's office for information on absentee voting or voter eligibility. You can also visit the Secretary of State's website at www.sos.ky.gov for additional information.

This will be a busy week for Crossroads Community Baptist Church as they host a number of community service related activities. In addition to free lunch, which is offered each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Lord's Cafe from 11:00am-1:30pm and free grocery giveaways every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3:00pm at the cafe, the church is offering free haircuts Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week week from 11:00am-2:00pm at the Lord's Salon, located behind The Lord's Cafe. Free laundry days are being sponsored at Pine Knot Laundry Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10:00am-2:00pm, including free detergent. A clothing giveaway is also being offered at Crossroads Church, in the former Maloney's building in the Big M Plaza in Whitley City, today 9Tuesday) from 10:00am-2:00pm. You should bring your own bag for the clothing. You can also follow Crossroads Church and the Lord's Cafe on Facebook for schedules and additional community service projects.

Police in Somerset are investigating a double shooting that they say took place during an argument at a home on Scenic Vista Drive. It happened late Saturday evening when authorities were called to the scene and found two men had shot each other during the dispute. Both were airlifted to UK Medical Center in Lexington for treatment but at last report the names and conditions of the men had not been released. The shooting remains under investigation by Kentucky State Police.

This week is “Red Ribbon Week” at McCreary Central High School with the theme for the related activities being “Respect Yourself...Be Drug Free!”. Scheduled events include the handing out of red ribbons for students to wear, wear red day on Monday, drug and alcohol facts broadcast during morning announcements, student poster contest with Wal-Mart gift cards as prizes, and a door decorating contest with prizes ranging from a class pizza party to breakfast from McDonalds and free soda at break. The week continues on Tuesday with “hunting for a drug free life” day with students encouraged to wear camouflage. On Wednesday students are encouraged to dress like Urkel for “Be Smart, Don't Do Drugs” day and on Thursday students will recognize “Drugs will not make my life a disaster” day as they wear their craziest outfit. To wrap up the week's activities, on Friday the theme is “Don't be part of the walking Dead...stay off drugs” as students dress like zombies. Judging for the door decorating contest will also be done on Friday as part of “Red Ribbon Week” at McCreary Central High School.

The McCreary County Chamber of Commerce held their annual banquet last night (Thursday October 22nd) at Heritage Hall in downtown Stearns. Lonnie Lawson, President and CEO of the Center for Rural Development, and Larry Combs, also with the Center, served as keynote speakers for the event. The speech included a presentation on a project to extend broadband access across the state, starting with southern and eastern Kentucky. The Center has partnered with the state and private business to extend what they call “dark fiber” across the state. This means the fiber lines for high speed, broadband will be in every county of Kentucky but connecting to that fiber to then extend service to homes and businesses will be up to local providers, such as Highland Telephone and Access Cable locally. The idea behind the project is to allow everyone access to high speed internet for personal and business use, to make the service much faster than it currently is, and to drive down prices by making it more affordable to local providers. The time line for the project is to have the lines in place throughout eastern Kentucky within the next year and all of Kentucky in about three years.

Thursday night's Chamber Banquet also included entertainment by Edsel Blevins and Kevin Dalton. A special “Legacy Award” was also bestowed upon local legend Edsel Blevins by the Chamber for decades of service, entertainment and being a friend to the community. Awards were also presented to McCreary County Hardwoods for Business of the year; Mary Ann Walters for Citizen of the year; Reagan Kidd for Student of the year; and Carol Jones for Educator of the year; and Azalie Egnew for Lifetime Achievement. In addition, Chamber President Diana Bybee presented the annual President's Award to Kay Morrow for her years of service to the community and to the Chamber.

Near the close of the banquet, all new officers and board members for the next year were sworn in by McCreary County Clerk Eric Haynes, before President Bybee delivered closing remarks. The McCreary County Chamber of Commerce meets each month, except annual banquet month, the third Wednesday at 12:00pm at the McCreary County Public Library.

With Halloween just over a week away, McCreary County residents are preparing for the various festivities with several special events planned. Among them is the “Screams of Terror” haunted house being held at the North McCreary Fire Department on Wiborg Loop. The fundraising event opens tonight (Friday October 23rd) and will be open Friday and Saturday 7:00pm to midnight, closed Sunday, then open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of next week from 7:00-11:00pm. The haunted house will also be open 7:00pm to midnight Friday and Saturday October 30th and 31st with admission each night $7.00 and all proceeds supporting the North McCreary Fire Department.

McCreary Central High School is again playing host to “Nightmare on Raider Street” which will be open Friday October 30th from 7:00-10:00pm and Saturday October 31st from 6:00-9:00pm with admission $10.00. The event includes a haunted house, booths, games, zombie attack and more.

WHAY Radio will also get in on the act of celebrating Halloween as we broadcast an evening of special programming Saturday October 31st, including an encore broadcast of a “Just for Fun” Halloween show that air more than a decade ago, but still includes lots of spooky fun. That will air 7:00-9:00pm, followed by the radio classic “War of the Worlds” at approximately 9:00pm.

Official Halloween Trick-or-Treating hours for McCreary County have been set for Saturday October 31st 5:00-8:00pm.

Kentucky residents are being encouraged to prepare for open enrollment through Kynect, the state's healthcare exchange. Open enrollment will begin November 1st with residents required to enroll or change plans no later than December 15th for coverage to be in effect January 1st. Most people who already have coverage through Kynect will be automatically renewed into the same plan, but changes can be made during the open enrollment period and new enrollees can also apply for coverage plans. More insurance companies have been added to the selection roles for 2016 in Kentucky, meaning more options for health coverage enrollees. Keep in mind that the penalty for not having health coverage will increase in 2016 to $695 per adult to r $347.50 per child or 2.5% of your annual income, whichever amount is higher. Those who qualify can enroll in Medicaid and KCHIP at any time. For additional information on Kynect, open enrollment and plans available, visit the healthcare exchange program online at kynect.ky.gov. Representatives from Kynect will be in McCreary County to assist those who need help with enrollment or have questions next Thursday October 29th from 10:00am to 2:00pm at the McCreary County Tourism/Economic Development office on Geary Street in downtown Whitley City. It is a free service and no appointment is necessary.

Somerset Police say they were in pursuit Monday night following a robbery at the Goodwill store in the Tradewinds shopping center when the chase took an unexpected turn. 49 year old Albert David Swihart reportedly turned his gun on himself rather than face charges when he was corned by police in the driveway of a home on West Columbia Street. Police say they did not fire a single shot in the incident and no one else was injured. The man was accompanied by 33 year old Lenzee Michelle Cox of Whitley City at the time of the robbery, police said. Cox was still at large at last report with police searching for her. The Somerset Police Department is leading the investigation.

Officials with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture say they are currently accepting applications from farmers and processors interested in taking part in pilot industrial hemp programs next year. In 2015, 922 acres of were approved for industrial hemp growth, according to the department, which was up from only 33 acres in 2014. Roughly one third of the applications received last year were approved, but there have been no projections as yet on how many applications may be approved or how many acres for 2016. Applications and instructions are available through the department's website at www.kyagr.com/hemp and will be accepted through November 5th.

Each year, the local community comes together to provide a free Christmas dinner for those in need in McCreary County in an event called the “Banquet of Blessings.” Planning for this year's event is already underway with volunteers and donations being sought for the project. Volunteers will be needed to help with fundraisers, setup and decorating, cooking, serving, cleanup and deliveries of meals. The banquet will be held Christmas Eve Day. For additional information and to follow the planning progress, like the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/McCrearyBlessings or call Adam Phillips at 376-3008.

The McCreary County Board of Education is set to meet in special session this evening (Tuesday October 20th) at 6:00pm at the central office on Raider Way in Stearns. This is a meeting which had been scheduled for last week but was rescheduled. One item on the agenda is discussion of hiring the Kentucky School Board Association to conduct the Superintendent Selection process. Mike Cash is currently serving as Acting Superintendent with Donnie Wright on leave through the end of December when his official retirement is scheduled to go into effect. The local school board will be responsible for selecting Wright's permanent replacement moving forward, but must contract with an outside entity, such as the School Board Association, to advertise the position and lead the interview process before the final decision is made by the local board. Other items on the agenda for tonight's meeting include issues related to the high school gym floor replacement, softball field house project, and middle school roof replacement.

Officials with the Kentucky Department for Public Health are reporting that the state has already seen its first cases of influenza for this season and they are urging residents to get their flu vaccination for the year. The flu season in Kentucky generally begins in October or early November and can continue for several months before slacking off in the early spring. Health officials say as of now it appears that adequate supplies of flu vaccine should be available for this season. The flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals age 6 months or older with people in the high risk category strongly urged to get vaccinated. That group includes children age 6 months through 4 years, pregnant women, people age 50 and older, those with chronic health problems, people who live or work in nursing homes or other healthcare facilities and other types of caregivers. For more information on influenza and the flu vaccine, contact your local health department or visit healthalerts.ky.gov.

Kentucky State Police report that 34 year old Christina Miller of Pine Knot was found lying unresponsive on the side of Highway 1651 near the railroad bridge in Revelo just after 9:00pm Sunday night. She was pronounced dead at the scene by the McCreary County Coroner's Office and an autopsy scheduled with the State Medical Examiner's Office. Upon investigation, authorities say it appears that Miller was struck by a vehicle as she was walking northbound on Highway 1651 and the vehicle involved left the scene. While the vehicle and driver involved are unknown at this time, police say they are investigating and are seeking information from the public. Contact the London Kentucky State Police Post at 606-878-6622 or 1-800-222-5555 with any information. Kentucky State Police are leading the investigation with assistance at the scene from the McCreary County Sheriff's Department, Coroner's Office, and EMS and the South McCreary Fire Department.

Nearly two years after he succumbed to injuries suffered in a residential fire, McCreary County and many from outside the local community came together for a special ceremony in honor of fallen firefighter Arlie “Pooh” Hill. The ceremony was a memorial dedication held this past Saturday afternoon at the Whitley city Fire Department, led and organized by Chief Tony Miller and his department, and including involvement from other emergency service departments. Hill died October 27, 2013, nearly two years ago, at University of Cincinnati Medical Center where he had been for about two months since he suffered burns over about 90% of his body in August of that year. That happened when “Pooh” and another local firefighter made their way into a burning home in the Revelo area in search of any victims who may still be inside. Further investigation after the fire led authorities to declare the fire the result of arson, but no suspects have been named in the case. Rewards are being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. Arlie “Pooh” Hill was born in 1975 and was a 1994 graduate of McCreary Central High School. He had worked as a CNA at a local medical office and had been with the Whitley City Fire Department for more than a decade.

We reported last week on the arrest of Jesse Brown in connection with the murder of Danny Poore in Pulaski County. Poore's body was discovered Sunday October 11th in a cabin at Pulaski County Park. Investigators were still searching for two additional suspects and, according to Wayne County Sheriff Tim Catron, those individuals were located late last Thursday and were taken into custody. Whitney Bell and Rexel Brown were reportedly being held for questioning in the case, while Jesse Brown has been charged with the actual murder. The Pulaski County Sheriff's Department is leading the investigation.

A special kick-off event is planned for the McCreary County Relay for Life is preparation of their 2016 efforts to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer. The event will be open to the public and will be held this Thursday October 22nd from 5:00-6:00pm in the conference room in the main building of the McCreary Center Campus of Somerset Community College. The event will include the showing of inspiring videos, refreshments and information about getting involved with the 2016 Relay for Life in McCreary County. Anyone interested is invited to attend the kick off event.

Test scores are in from last school year and they show improvement for all five local schools during the last year under former Superintendent Donnie Wright. The McCreary County Voice reports on the release of the scores, stating that Pine Knot Intermediate School led the way by making it to the “School of Distinction” classification with a ranking high enough to place it as the 83rd best score in the state out of more than 700 schools. Whitley City Elementary, Pine Knot Primary, McCreary County Middle School and McCreary Central High School all saw improved test scores in the 2014-2015 school year. For information on the scores can be found in last week's edition of The Voice.

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