Photos: SL Tennessee expansion

SL Tennessee Tail Light Hot Weld

SL Tennessee employee Ricky Bean at a hot plate welding station in the assembly area for Cadillac tail lights.


CLINTON—Tennessee officials and SL Tennessee executives on Friday announced 1,000 new auto parts manufacturing jobs as part of a $80.5 million expansion in the Clinton I-75 Industrial Park in Clinton. It could be the largest expansion of industrial employment in Anderson County since World War II.

The South Korean company plans to invest $80.5 million to build a 250,000-square-foot plant on Frank L. Diggs Drive in the industrial park. It will be SL Tennessee’s LLC third building in the park, and the company’s fifth expansion since locating in Clinton in 2001. The new building will manufacture automobile head lights and tail lamps for General Motors.

Construction on the new building in Clinton will begin in August, and the new plant could be operating by April 2015.

Here is a collection of photos from Friday’s event. [Read more...]

SL Tennessee expansion could be largest in industrial employment since World War II

SL Tennessee Expansion Media Availability

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, center, announces 1,000 new jobs as part of an $80.5 million expansion at auto parts manufacturer SL Tennessee in Clinton. Also pictured from left are Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Clinton Mayor Scott Burton, and U.S. Senator Bob Corker.


Note: This story was last updated at 11:30 a.m. July 26.

CLINTON—The 1,000 new jobs announced at SL Tennessee in Clinton on Friday could be the largest expansion of industrial employment in Anderson County since World War II, officials said.

SL Tennessee, an auto parts manufacturer, plans to invest $80.5 million to build a 250,000-square-foot plant on Frank L. Diggs Drive in the Clinton I-75 Industrial Park. It will be SL Tennessee’s LLC third building in the park, and the company’s fifth expansion since locating in Clinton in 2001. The new building will manufacture automobile head lights and tail lamps for General Motors.

The jobs announcement was made in the South Korean company’s Chassis Plant on Friday near workers assembling gear shifters and brake assemblies, mostly for GM. Marking the importance of the announcement, Gov. Bill Haslam was invited to speak and so were U.S. senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.

“This is obviously a big day,” said Haslam, who announced the new jobs. “It shows our growth in the automotive business.”

It’s the second announcement of more than 1,000 jobs at an automotive plant in East Tennessee in the past two weeks. Last week, Volkswagen announced a $600 million investment and 2,000 new jobs in Chattanooga. [Read more...]

Firefighters put out car fire on Manhattan Avenue

Manhattan Avenue Car Fire

The Oak Ridge Fire Department extinguishes a car fire on Manhattan Avenue on Monday afternoon.


The Oak Ridge Fire Department extinguished a car fire on Manhattan Avenue during a busy Monday afternoon this week.

There were no reports of injuries in the car fire, which appeared to destroy the interior of the car.

Oak Ridge Today has requested more information from the Fire Department, and we will update this story with new information as it becomes available.

Sheriff candidates spar over jail food

Anderson County Jail Sandwich Lunch

A hand-picked crew of nine inmates prepares peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on white bread for lunch at the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton on Wednesday. Oak Ridge Today was allowed to take pictures of the kitchen, food storage area, and coolers and freezers, but not the inmates.


Note: This story was last updated at 2:15 p.m. July 27.

Sheriff: Despite campaign claims, jail menu conservative, with average meal $1.10

Challenger stands by his pie, ice cream claims

CLINTON—The menu at the Anderson County jail at lunchtime Wednesday was simple and spartan: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk.

It doesn’t appear to be an unusual meal at the jail, at least not this week. In fact, the menu this week includes three similar lunches with 1/4 cup of peanut butter and jelly mix, two slices of bread, and 8 oz. of milk or chocolate milk.

Anthony Lay

Anthony Lay

Other meals on the menu—the jail can serve up to 8,000 per week—also call for small portions of meat and bread, fruits and vegetables, and beans and milk.

But Anthony Lay, a Republican candidate for Anderson County sheriff, has raised questions about what inmates are eating. He has suggested they’re eating luxuriously, enjoying pies, cobblers, cookies, and cake. Lay has said the jail appears to be operating a bakery, and taxpayers are footing the bill.

“Fresh baked (double chunk) cookies; cherry, blackberry, and blueberry cobbler; pumpkin and apple pie with Cool Whip—these are all delicious,” Lay said in a June 26 press release. “But at the end of the day, taxpayers foot the bill, and they don’t expect us to offer luxuries to folks who, let’s face it, are in jail for a reason.”

Paul White

Paul White

Sheriff Paul White, a Democrat seeking his third term in the August 7 election, has dismissed Lay’s claims as inaccurate and misleading.

“The jail does not operate a bakery,” White said in a July 1 statement.

He said the jail menus are quite conservative. They include a cold sandwich for lunch. The average meal costs $1.10, White said. [Read more...]

Sheriff candidate suspended by THP in May says he’s a political target

Anthony Lay

Anthony Lay

Note: This story was last updated at 8:15 p.m. July 23.

A candidate for Anderson County sheriff suspended by the Tennessee Highway Patrol in May said he has been the target of political attacks.

THP Trooper Anthony Lay was suspended for five days in May for unsatisfactory job performance, a spokesperson said Monday. The suspension was based on several factors, including insubordination, neglect of duty, failure to perform the duties of his job, non-compliance with an internal database system, and having an unsecured patrol unit in a populated area, said Dalya Qualls, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Safety.

The administrative review that led to Lay’s suspension was received in April 2014.

Lay said he had been off work for five months because of back surgery, and Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark reported that Lay had not turned in some requested case file documents. Lay said he did not receive the letter requesting the documents, and the request letters were apparently sent to a Knoxville office.

“I have received no documentation requests on it whatsoever,” Lay said. [Read more...]

County officials urged to hire attorneys in ouster suit as legal fees rise

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, during a Monday morning Anderson County Commission meeting.


Note: This story was last updated at 10:06 a.m. July 22.

CLINTON—The legal fees in a few high-profile disputes between top Anderson County officials could approach a half-million dollars, and Anderson County commissioners should all seek their own legal counsel in an ouster lawsuit filed against the law director, stunned commissioners were told Monday.

Subpoenas have already been issued in the ouster suit, and several officials, including a few County Commissioners, have reportedly received letters asking them to waive their attorney-client privilege.

Anderson County Commissioner Myron Iwanski, who is former interim mayor, said some of the records he’s been asked to provide go back 10 years, and some of them are personnel records. Iwanski said he needs legal representation because he doesn’t want to disclose anything improper, a mistake that could lead to another lawsuit.

“It’s about trying to do what’s right for the county,” Iwanski said.

He said former Anderson County Jail Administrator Avery Johnson has also been served with a subpoena and will need legal representation.

“This is just the start of the legal battle,” Iwanski said. [Read more...]

City, AMSE Foundation have community meeting on museum Thursday


The American Museum of Science and Energy is at 300 South Tulane Avenue in Oak Ridge. (Photo by Sara Wise)

The City of Oak Ridge and the American Museum of Science and Energy Foundation are sponsoring a community meeting on Thursday that will include discussions of ways to strengthen the museum as a community and regional asset and destination attraction.

The meeting will also include an information session on current museum operations and the role of the AMSE Foundation. New AMSE Director David Moore will be at the meeting.

The meeting is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the museum, which is at 300 South Tulane Avenue in Oak Ridge. Registration and light refreshments will be available beginning at 5:30 p.m., a press release said.

In a press release, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said it’s the right time to get the community involved in a dialogue about the museum. [Read more...]

Search for Corwin continues, investigation not classified as criminal

Erin Corwin

Erin Corwin (Photos courtesy San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department)

Three weeks after she disappeared, the search for an Oak Ridge woman living in southern California continues, but it has not been classified as a criminal investigation, authorities said Friday.

No suspects or “persons of interest” have been identified in the search for Erin Corwin, who is 20 and three months pregnant, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said. And no information is being released about possible witnesses, witness statements, or investigative techniques used during the search, the department said.

The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, has reported that the Naval Criminal Investigative Services is assisting in the search by helping with the military aspects of the investigation. The newspaper said four search warrants have been served, and they have been used to search two vehicles, including Corwin’s car, and two apartments on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, where Corwin lives with her husband, Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, who is also from Oak Ridge.

Authorities have said Corwin’s disappearance is suspicious and does not appear to be voluntary. So far, though, they have not announced finding any signs of her. [Read more...]

Number of students affected by bus route changes down to 1,300

Keys Fillauer and Chris Marczak at Girls Inc.

Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer, left, and Oak Ridge Schools Assistant Superintendent Chris Marczak say a Wednesday change in how mileage is calculated could reduce the number of students affected by a new “parent responsibility zone” for transportation from 1,800 to 1,300. Marczak says his family is also affected by the expanded zone, where bus service is not provided.


The Wednesday change in how bus service is mapped could help about 500 students, reducing the number of children affected by expanded zones where parents will have to provide transportation to schools from 1,800 to 1,300, officials said.

Those students would have been in the expanded 1.5-mile “parent responsibility zone,” where bus service is not provided and parents have to arrange transportation. The expanded parent responsibility zone, which is also sometimes called a PRZ or walk zone, was approved by school officials in June.

Oak Ridge school officials announced Wednesday that they were changing how the 1.5 miles is calculated, switching from a 1.5-mile radius measured by air (also known as “as the crow flies”) to actual walking distance. That means the expanded no-bus service zone will now affect fewer families. Parents called the change a small but positive step.

Even with the modification, though, parents continue to have concerns. The protests kicked into high gear last week, and some parents expressed concerns during a Wednesday evening meeting at Girls Inc. Among the concerns were children who have to cross busy roadways or pass by the homes of registered sex offenders.

“We are paying property taxes, and our children’s safety should come first,” parent Beverly Heun said. “Our transportation should not have been cut.” [Read more...]

Bullets for blanks negligent, but rounds not put into guns during police training, attorney says

Oak Ridge Today

KNOXVILLE—The Oak Ridge police lieutenant who sent deactivated .38-caliber pistol ammunition and live .223-caliber rifle rounds rather than blanks for use in a training session three years ago was negligent, an attorney said Thursday.

But the mistake was detected before the live rounds were put into guns, and there was no imminent danger or harm to anyone, said Benjamin K. Lauderback, who represented the City of Oak Ridge in oral arguments before the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville on Thursday.

The police officer who detected the error, former Oak Ridge Police Department Sgt. Mark Coffey, filed a formal complaint two days after the August 20, 2011, training session, known as an “active shooter” response. He resigned a few months later in October, and in August 2012, he filed a lawsuit in Anderson County Circuit Court alleging retaliation and wrongful discharge.

In the lawsuit, Coffey said other ORPD employees retaliated against him after he filed the complaint against Lt. Brad Jenkins, who supplied the ammunition. Coffey said he had been forced to resign and was “constructively discharged.” Before he left the job, Coffey said, he had been re-assigned to work under Jenkins, and he resigned because of the alleged retaliation and fears for his personal safety. He sought $600,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

The city won a summary judgement, which is like a dismissal, in August 2013. Anderson County Circuit Court Judge Don Elledge did not find that Coffey’s working conditions were bad enough that an ordinary person couldn’t tolerate them, Lauderback said. [Read more...]

Four Applewood Apartment buildings still ‘unfit,’ not vacated, attorney says

Applewood Apartments at 105 Hunter Circle

A city board declared four buildings on Hunter Circle to be unfit for human occupation or use in November 2010 and, after a Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion, reaffirmed the decision in March 2013. The case has been appealed back to the appellate court.

KNOXVILLE—More than three years after they were declared “unfit,” four dilapidated Applewood Apartment buildings have still not been vacated, an attorney said Thursday.

The Anderson County Chancery Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals have both affirmed a November 2010 decision by an Oak Ridge board declaring the dilapidated buildings on Hunter Circle to be unfit for human occupation and use—and calling for them to be vacated immediately, attorney Dan Pilkington said.

The 2010 decision was reaffirmed by the city board, the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals, in March 2013, Pilkington said.

“We believe that this order is final,” he said in a 15-minute oral argument before a three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville on Thursday. “Despite that, the buildings have never been vacated.”

The 2010 Oak Ridge board hearing was held after notices were issued citing multiple deficiencies that were hazardous to tenants, said Pilkington, who works for Knoxville law firm Watson, Roach, Batson, Rowell, and Lauderback. That company represented the City of Oak Ridge in Thursday’s oral argument before a three-judge panel that included John W. McClarty, D. Michael Swiney, and D. Kelly Thomas Jr. [Read more...]

Investigators search 200 miles of desert for pregnant Oak Ridge woman missing in California

Erin Corwin

Erin Corwin (Photos courtesy San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department)

Investigators searching for an Oak Ridge woman who now lives in California and disappeared under suspicious circumstances two weeks ago have covered more than 200 square miles of remote desert, authorities said Friday.

The search for Erin Corwin, who is 19 years old and pregnant, has been concentrated around the Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. The vast high desert reserve is east of Los Angeles and just south of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base, where Corwin lives with her husband, U.S. Marine Cpl. Jonathan Wayne Corwin, who is also from Oak Ridge.

The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said the search has found no sign of Corwin, and her disappearance does not appear to be voluntary.

The search will continue as necessary throughout the weekend using search and rescue volunteers from the San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, and Kern County Sheriff’s Departments, and Joshua Tree National Park Service rangers, authorities said.

Investigators said they haven’t released much information about Corwin’s disappearance because of its suspicious nature. [Read more...]