LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — 1) AirEvac crash kills three
On Thursday, June 6, an AirEvac Lifeteam helicopter crashed near the AirEvac landing pad in Clay County, killing all three crew members on board. The pilot, former Chief Deputy Eddy Sizemore, 61; flight nurse Jesse Jones, 28, of Pineville; and flight paramedic Herman Lee Dobbs Jr., 40, of London, all died in the crash that occurred around 11 p.m. in the parking lot of Paces Creek Elementary School, which is just across the road from the AirEvac helipad.
The crew was returning to the Manchester landing base after transferring a patient to Saint Joseph London.
Preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited “dense fog” as the probable cause.
Following funeral services, the AirEvac Lifeteam celebrated — and mourned — with a memorial service at North Laurel High School on June 14.
While tears rolled down the cheeks of nearly every person in attendance, the Last Call for the beloved crew members resounded throughout the gym.
“Last call for November One-One-Nine Alpha Echo is out of service.........forever. God speed and blue skies.”
2) Phelps sentenced to three years
In January, a major trial was set for spring. Former Laurel County School administrator Charles Douglas Phelps, who was charged with having sexual relations with a minor, would be in Laurel Circuit Court Feb. 4.
Four of the five counts of the indictment against Phelps were dismissed days before the trial was due to begin as the lead witness changed her story. Without DNA evidence and a witness’s testimony, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele had no choice but to ask for the dismissal of charges. Count 5 then went before the Kentucky Supreme Court for review. The court rendered their opinion on a similar case, allowing Steele to “redocket” Count 5, and Phelps’ jury trial was scheduled for October 8.
Phelps appeared in court that morning. However, the victim in the case was not present.
Due to the no-show witness, Steele requested a new trial date. Phelps was placed under home incarceration until the trial date of Dec. 2. The restrictions of his incarceration allowed for day-time working hours and stipulated no contact with victims.
Just one day later, Phelps was jailed for violating bond conditions.
On October 18, Phelps received an additional indictment by the Laurel Grand Jury for tampering with a witness and bribing a witness.
The indictment claimed that from Aug. 1 through Oct. 9 of this year, Phelps assisted the key witness and victim in his sexual abuse case not to appear in court to testify against him. He is also charged with paying the witness - “all with the intent to influence the outcome of the proceedings.”
Phelps was then set to appear in Laurel Circuit court on November 15 for a status hearing on the bond violation as well a hearing on the bribery and tampering with a witness charges.
On October 31, Phelps answered “guilty” to two felony charges before Laurel Circuit Judge Tom Jensen. Phelps was sentenced to serve a two-year sentence for possessing child pornography, followed by another year’s imprisonment for tampering with a witness. He must also register as a sex offender for 20 years.
3) City establishes its own tourism commission
On August 5, the London City Council made a surprise decision to form their own tourism commission, completely independent from the London-Laurel County Tourist Commission.
Mayor Troy Rudder said the new Tourism and Convention Commission would give the city the freedom to make decisions regarding the future of tourism in London.
He continued by saying he had not spoken to anyone from the London-Laurel Tourist Commission but felt the decision would not deteriorate any bonds that had been made between the city and the county.
In a four-to-two vote on August 8, the London City Council passed the second reading of an ordinance to establish a city tourism and convention commission.
Council members Judd Weaver and Danny Phelps voted against the ordinance, noting they were concerned that having two tourism commissions in Laurel County could potentially cause a division between the city and county.
To fund the council, the city is looking into an additional one percent transient room tax, added on to the already existing three percent transient room tax which is the main source of income for London-Laurel Tourist Commission.
As a fourth class city, London may also levy a restaurant tax, not to exceed three percent of gross retail sales of restaurants within the city. Receipts are to be dedicated to the funding of the local tourism commission.
Rudder then stated he wanted a “cooperative partnership” with the county tourist commission, “but it’s time that we take control and get involved with the things we have going on in the city.”
As of Jan. 1, 2014, the city has yet to enact taxes to fund the city tourism commission.
4) Banner year for business, jobs
Starting in January, the local Industrial Authority Director Charlie Pennington proclaimed it was going to be a banner year for business, with at least one major business opening and another beginning construction.
In May, Springleaf Financial Services bought out 400,000 of HSBC’s accounts valued at more than $4.2 billion, as well as the building and assets in the west Ky. 80 industrial park that first opened as Beneficial in 2001. Springleaf held an official ribbon cutting ceremony on September 18.
In early July, the Industrial Authority released the news that 1,000 jobs would be coming to London in September. General Dynamics, a call center, would help people with Medicaid issues, and hourly wages would start at $12.51 per hour, said representatives of the Industrial Authority.
Less than two weeks later, they knew more jobs were coming to London. Serco, an information technology company based in Reston, Va., announced their intentions to locate in London where they were looking to hire 638 persons by their Oct. 1 opening date.
Another new business moved to London. Benore Logistics Systems Inc., which hauls BMW parts, began hiring on October 18 and hopes to grow to include 50 employees in 2014.
5) Mercy killing or murder?
On Aug. 28, Ernest Chris Chumbley, 48, of London was arrested for the murder of his wife, Virginia M. Chumbley, 44, after shooting her in an alleged mercy killing.
Chumbley said his wife of more than 20 years asked him to end her pain because she was terminally ill with breast cancer.
Preliminary autopsy reports that same week showed Virginia M. Chumbley died of three gunshot wounds to the face.
Family disputed the claim that Virginia M. Chumbley wanted to die.
I don’t believe it,” said Rita Smith, her mother at a preliminary hearing on September 3. “She had three children and grandbabies to live for. She wanted to live.”
Smith said although her daughter was suffering from cancer, the woman had a will to live.
Ernest Chris Chumbley was indicted by a Laurel grand jury on September 20. He is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on January 27.
6) St. Camillus to close in May
In January 2013, students, parents and staff learned St. Camillus Academy was to close in May and financial reasons were to blame.
The decision to close was made by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, which operated St. Camillus for the past two years. Loss of student population and rising expenses were cited as the main reasons to end the contract.
At the time, the private Catholic school, which sits atop a hill in East Corbin, had 83 students in classes from Montessori to sixth grade.
Later that month, parents and school supporters pledged $30,000 to keep the school open. With parent and community support, a new board of directors vowed the school would open in August. Saint Camillus Academy of Corbin, Inc. was formed and students registered for the 2013-14 school year.
On July 29, despite the best efforts of students, parents and staff, it was announced St. Camillus Academy would close. Once again, declining enrollment was the biggest factor.
In a letter sent to parents of children planning to attend the Catholic school in Corbin, the academy’s board of directors said enrollment for the new school year was “substantially below the threshold of needed income to successfully meet the school’s financial obligations.”
The Corbin Catholic School would have celebrated its 100th birthday on Sept. 8.
The site was purchased by Corbin Independent Schools in mid-September, and will become the new Corbin Middle School.
7) First-ever shoe collection for Laurel County Schools
“Dance Your Shoes Off Laurel County” was the first-ever, back-to-school event of its kind. Throughout the month of August, churches, businesses, individuals and other charitable groups collected new tennis shoes of all sizes for Laurel County youth.
Sponsored in partnership by First Baptist Church-East Bernstadt and the United Way of Laurel County, the event featured a shoe drive and inspirational dance at the final Thursday Night Live of the 2013 season.
According to Judy Nicholson, executive director of the United Way of Laurel County, more than 1,800 pairs of new tennis shoes were collected and divided between all family resource centers in Laurel County, including East Bernstadt Independent.
“We had secretly hoped for 1,000 shoes,” said Pastor Norm Brock of First Baptist E.B. “We surpassed that. It has blown me away.
“It’s not been about one church or one organization, it’s been a community event, and what’s a better cause than this.”
8) Largest Redbud Ride to date
More than 1,100 riders from 15 states traveled to London in April to participate in the sixth annual Redbud Ride. Many were first-time competitors.
The record-breaking Redbud Ride boosted the local economy by an estimated half a million dollars, according to Rodney Hendrickson, co-executive director of the London-Laurel County Tourist Commission.
With more restaurants open downtown this year than the last, cyclists had a variety to choose from and didn’t have to travel far. Data showed, on average, cyclists spent approximately $500 while in London for the event, Hendrickson said.
9) God’s Pantry opens regional distribution center
On November 4, God’s Pantry Food Bank (GPFB) held an official ribbon cutting at their new Southeast Regional Distribution Center, located on East Fourth Street in London.
The facility was funded by a Community Development Block Grant and private donations. The regional center will provide food to places such as soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, senior centers, day treatment facilities and childcare centers in an 11-county area of southeastern Kentucky.
According to CEO Marian Guinn, in 2012 GPFB distributed around 24 million pounds of food and 8 million pounds of refrigerated foods such as fresh produce. Included in those totals are the eight participating Laurel County food pantries, which received 941,935 pounds of food from GPFB in 2012.
10) More community losses
In 2013, the community lost several more passionate, public servants in addition to the lives of the AirEvac crew- Eddy Sizemore, Jesse Jones, and Herman Lee Dobbs Jr.
Lori Acton, the executive director of the Laurel County Public Library, passed away on Monday, Jan. 28 at age 55.
Laurel County lost two former Jailers. Jack Sizemore, 76, passed away Saturday, Feb. 9. “Big John” Bowling, 72, died Sunday, March 31.
Ronnie Bales was chief of the Keavy Volunteer Fire Department as well as president of the Laurel County Fire Alliance for more than 20 years. Bales, 68, passed away Friday, Sept. 13.