Police investigate robbery at check cashing store, set up perimeter at apartment building

ORPD Matthew Johnston, Brandan Sharp, and Ray Steakley at Manhattan Apartments

Oak Ridge Police Department officers set up a perimeter around one building at Manhattan Apartments on North Purdue Avenue after a robbery was reported at the nearby Check Into Cash on South Illinois Avenue on Friday afternoon. Pictured above from left are Matthew Johnston, Brandan Sharp, and Ray Steakley.


Note: This story was last updated at 7:15 p.m.

The Oak Ridge Police Department on Friday afternoon was investigating a reported robbery at a check cashing and payday loan store on South Illinois Avenue, and officers set up a perimeter at a nearby apartment building.

The robbery was reported at about 3:15 p.m. Friday at Check Into Cash at 361 South Illinois Avenue. Officers said it wasn’t clear what was taken.

Police set up a perimeter around a building at the nearby Manhattan Apartments on North Purdue Avenue, and several officers were carrying AR15 rifles as they appeared to conduct a search in and around the three-story building. But it wasn’t immediately clear if they were looking for a suspect or something else. [Read more…]

Roane County issues first same-sex marriage license

Roane County Courthouse

The Roane County Courthouse in Kingston is pictured above. (File photo)


Note: This story was last updated at 4:30 p.m.

Roane County issued its first same-sex marriage license on Friday afternoon, just a few hours after the U.S. Supreme Court backed gay marriage in a landmark 5-4 ruling.

The Roane County license was issued to two women at about 3 p.m. Friday, Roane County Clerk Barbara Anthony said. She said she can’t identify the two women.

Anthony declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision, which was celebrated in some circles and criticized in others.

“We just comply with the law,” Anthony said. [Read more…]

Appeals court rules in favor of Covenant Health, other defendants in excessive radiation lawsuit

Methodist Medical Center Main Entrance

A three-judge appeals court panel has ruled in favor of Covenant Health and two other defendants in five lawsuits that alleged that the absence of shielding in part of the emergency department at Methodist Medical Center exposed five X-ray and radiologic technologists, including two who were pregnant, to excessive radiation.

The unanimous opinions by the three Tennessee Court of Appeals judges—D. Michael Swiney, John W. McClarty, and Thomas R. Frierson II—were filed June 9 in Knoxville. They affirmed an order by Anderson County Circuit Court Judge Donald R. Elledge granting a summary judgement in favor of the defendants: Covenant Health, Rentenbach Engineering Company, and TEG Architects LLC.

The lawsuits were filed in January 2014 by Connie Raby, Keith Gillis, Michael Phillips, Mary Ridenour on behalf of her and her child, and Micah Noelle Lewellen on behalf of her and her child.

The lawsuits alleged that the technologists were exposed to excess radiation for several years at Methodist Medical Center because some walls in and around a radiology imaging center in the new emergency department, which opened in February 2006 as part of a hospital remodel, were built without the required lead shielding, elevating the workers’ risk of health problems, including cancer. [Read more…]

Tennessee Court of Appeals affirms dismissal of ouster suit filed against AC law director

Jay Yeager and Lynn Byrge

Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager, left, the defendant in an ouster suit filed by a group of residents, is pictured with Lynn Byrge, one of the petitioners in the complaint, during an Anderson County Commission meeting in July 2014. (File photo)


Note: This story was last updated at 3:25 p.m.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed the decision of a trial court to dismiss an ouster complaint filed against Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager.

Twenty-two Anderson County residents tried to remove Yeager, who was appointed law director in September 2006, from his office under Tennessee’s ouster law. The complaint was originally filed in Anderson County Chancery Court in May 2014 and amended the next month.

The Anderson County Chancery Court issued an order granting Yeager’s motion to dismiss on September 22, 2014, but the case was appealed. On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the court, which heard oral arguments in April, upheld the trial court’s decision to grant the motion to dismiss, which was issued by Special Judge Don R. Ash.

“I deeply appreciate the County Commission and the Legal Services Advisory Committee for their continued support and confidence during these very difficult times for myself and my family,” Yeager said Thursday morning. [Read more…]

Secret City Festival growing, evolving, but not ending, officials say

Secret City Festival World War II Re-enactment 2015

A Flak 88 firing during a Battle of Normandy re-enactment at the 2015 Secret City Festival in Oak Ridge. (Photo by Rob Welton)


Note: This story was last updated at 10 a.m.

A rumor that circulated widely this month said this was going to be the last year for the Secret City Festival.

But city officials said it’s premature to say that.

It is true that a Special Events Advisory Task Force has been studying changes to the annual festival, including moving it from June and making it into an expanded celebration in the fall, starting in October and continuing through Veterans Day (November 11). It could be renamed the Secret City Celebration, implemented by a new nonprofit expected to become self-sustaining within five years, and add events while continuing to include the Secret City Festival.

At a Wednesday evening meeting, Task Force members said many of the current festival activities could continue, including music, World War II re-enactments, historical displays, and children’s activities. But they also said there could be opportunities for new partnerships with other organizations, including Wounded Warriors and Oak Ridge Playhouse. And it’s not clear that the Secret City Festival would continue to be a two-day event.

Task Force members say they’re hoping to help create something bigger and better. [Read more…]

Body of missing five-year-old boy found in pond near family home

Olin Elwood Fitton

Olin Elwood Fitton

The body of the five-year-old boy who went missing Wednesday afternoon was found in a pond near his family’s home in Anderson County, authorities said.

Ground search teams working with K-9s tracked the missing child, Odin Elwood Fitton, to a pond in the creek near the family home on Brushy Valley Road, Anderson County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Mark Lucas said.

“Our dive team was called to search the water, and sadly, the child’s body was found,” Lucas said Wednesday night.

Odin was reported missing at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, and ground and air searches began shortly after that. His family’s home is in the 1600 block of Brushy Valley Road near Interstate 75. [Read more…]

Anderson County teachers disappointed as commissioners delay vote on budget, pay raise

Anderson County Budget Committee and Rachel Minardo, Chris Phillips, and Connie Aytes

Rachel Minardo, right, a first-grade teacher at Claxton Elementary School and president of the Anderson County Education Association, asks for a 4 percent pay raise for county teachers and school staff during a May 28 public hearing on the county budget. Also pictured are Chris Phillips, left, director of accounts and budgets for Anderson County, and Connie Aytes, deputy budget director.


CLINTON—Anderson County teachers were disappointed as they watched county commissioners postpone a vote on the budget and a possible 4 percent pay raise on Tuesday.

But they’ll be back on Monday, June 29, for the next meeting of the Anderson County Commission, said Rachel Minardo, a first-grade teacher at Claxton Elementary School and president of the Anderson County Education Association.

It’s not clear if the 16-member Commission will agree to fund the school system’s request for a 4 percent raise for all teachers and staff. That’s what the Anderson County Board of Education unanimously recommended last month. The request could require the equivalent of an 18-cent increase in the property tax rate.

But during debate over proposed pay raises for some county employees on Tuesday, several commissioners said they want to be consistent and fair to all workers. [Read more…]

Preschool concerns over paint, Head Start funding reaching resolution

Oak Ridge Schools School Administration Building

Concerns over federal funding, lead-based paint, and the Oak Ridge Preschool appear to be reaching a resolution. And that ought to be good news for parents and staff members who have been worried during the past year that the program could lose federal money and even have part of its program shut down.

There have been two separate concerns, one related to lead-based paint at the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool and the other related to the reported falsification of federal data.

Work to repair the lead-based paint could start June 29, Preschool Principal Charlsey Cofer said after a Monday night meeting of the Oak Ridge Board of Education.

And a one-year probationary period with an on-site monitor for the Head Start program ends the next day, on June 30. That monitor was put into place last year as part of a 10-point plan worked out by Anderson County and Oak Ridge schools in April 2014 after concerns were raised about the falsification of federal data at the Oak Ridge Preschool, specifically reports on the motor skills of children.

Oak Ridge Schools will now do its own monitoring, but Anderson County Schools, which supervises the local Head Start program, can come in at any time. [Read more…]

Bear spotted in Rocky Top on Friday

Bear in Rocky Top on June 19, 2015

A bear was spotted at 320 Norris Freeway in Rocky Top, across from the Dollar Store, at about 12:30 p.m. Friday. (Photo courtesy Raymond Jobe)

A bear was spotted in Rocky Top on Friday.

Authorities received a report of a bear near the intersection of U.S. 441 (Norris Freeway) and North Main Street at about noon Friday, a Rocky Top dispatcher said. It was across from Advance Auto Parts.

Dispatchers contacted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which recommended leaving the animal alone. TWRA said the bear was probably looking for food, and berries will “come out” in about another two to three weeks.

The dispatcher said the bear drifted off from that intersection downtown and was seen elsewhere around Rocky Top (the former Lake City) before disappearing. [Read more…]

Green named girls basketball coach, one half of husband-wife coaching duo

Paige Green

Paige Green

Paige Green has been named the new girls basketball coach at Oak Ridge High School, making her one half of a husband-wife coaching duo. Green’s husband, Aaron Green, is the boys basketball coach.

The appointment was announced Wednesday and went into effect immediately. Green, who has an impressive résumé as a player and has coached middle school and AAU basketball, will replace David Scott, who announced his decision to resign in late May. Scott cited family reasons after a second stint as coach.

It’s not unprecedented to have a husband-wife coaching duo. Aaron Green said he knows of two other similar coaching couples, the McWilliams at Upperman High School near Cookeville and Keith and Jennifer Galloway at Hardin Valley Academy. [Read more…]

Cinder, public works director, to retire Sept. 4

Gary Cinder

Gary Cinder

Gary Cinder, who has been Oak Ridge public works director for 24 years and interim city manager twice, is retiring September 4.

Cinder has been in public service for 33 years. He could go to work in the private sector, possibly as a consultant.

“It’s time to try something new, something different,” Cinder told Oak Ridge City Council members on Tuesday.

Cinder was the lead staff member on locating, designing, and building the Oak Ridge Central Services Complex on Woodbury Lane. That building is used by the Oak Ridge Public Works Department, Oak Ridge Electric Department, and the school bus maintenance facility, among others.

Cinder has led a major effort to ensure that Oak Ridge complies with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order that requires the city to repair all sewer system overflows by September 28. That work is mostly complete, and the city is in good shape, Cinder said. [Read more…]

Cocke County says case closed after widow releases suicide note, but parents dispute note

Alexander John Heitman

Alexander John Heitman

Officials say it was suicide. But the parents are skeptical.

So questions linger almost four years after Alexander John Heitman, 29, of Knoxville, was found dead in Cocke County after being reported missing by Oak Ridge Schools. Heitman reportedly died on Tranquility Ridge Drive outside Newport on July 25, 2011. Officials said it was suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

But Heitman’s parents, Don and Annette Heitman of Adams, Wisconsin, find it hard to believe. They aren’t the only ones. Some current and former Oak Ridge residents, including City Council member Trina Baughn, are also skeptical of the official cause of death.

Heitman’s widow, Kristie Heitman, is not. In February, she released a suicide note that she believes Alex, who was the supervisor of business and support services for Oak Ridge Schools, wrote the day before he died.

Neither is Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes. In March, he said the case is closed, and there is no reason to continue pursuing it. Investigators found no evidence that anyone else was involved, Fontes said.

But Don and Annette continue to seek answers. They started a website in October 2013 and used it to raise questions about the case. They’ve also asked for the death investigation to be re-opened, hired attorney Hugh Ward to help them, and won the support of Baughn and others. They’ve also asked the FBI to investigate. [Read more…]