Saturday, January 28, 2023

Top Local Stories in the Fourth Quarter of 2022

By Alyssa Schnugg

News editor

alyssa.schnugg@hottytoddy.com

This week, Hotty Toddy News is covering the top stories of 2022 for each quarter of the year, ending on Saturday with the Top Story of the Year. Today is the fourth story in the series with the top stories from October, November and December.

The headlines from the fourth quarter of 2022 largely were about the weather — from no rain to too much rain and then subfreezing temperatures — sometimes all in the same week. There were stories of heroism, Christmas plans and unfortunately, crime that in some cases, resulted in a deadly end.

October

A man charged with stalking Oxford’s Mayor Robyn Tannehill pleaded guilty to an aggravated stalking charge on Nov. 3.

Matthew Reardon was sentenced to probation and was banned from Lafayette County for five years. However, just a few weeks later, he was arrested for violating his probation after being found in Lafayette County and a Circuit Court judge sentenced him to one year in prison.

Once he is released, he will still be banished from the county for four years.

Reardon was arrested on June 28 by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations and charged with aggravated stalking after walking into the City Hall with a video camera and walking toward Mayor Robyn Tannehill’s office.

In June 2017, a restraining order was issued ordering Reardon to stay at least 500 feet away from Tannehill and her husband, Rhea and his law firm.

*

The fourth quarter started off in a dry spell after having received no rain for weeks.

The low humidity and warm temps helped spark grass and brush fires across the county. In the first week of October, the Lafayette County Fire Department responded to nine brush fires.

The National Weather Service issued an elevated fire danger statement for most of north Mississippi.

Several counties in north Mississippi were under a burning ban; however, Lafayette County did not opt to put one in place.

*

An Ole Miss student was killed on Oct. 15 by a hit-and-run driver just off the downtown Square.

Walker Allen Fielder, 21, of Madison was walking with a friend in the parking lot behind City Hall when he was struck down by a pickup truck.

Walker Fielder

Walker was pursuing a B.B.A. in Finance and was an active member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

His friend received critical injuries and was transferred to the hospital.

Oxford police arrested Seth Rokitka and Tristan Holland, both of Collierville in connection to the hit-and-run.

Holland was charged with being an accessory after the fact and Rokitka was charged with one count of manslaughter, one count of aggravated DUI and one count of Duties of Driver Involved in an Accident Resulting in Personal Injury, for leaving the scene.

The case will go before the grand jury in January.

*

On Oct. 19, a man was shot and killed by Lafayette County Sheriff’s Deputies while responding to a domestic call.

The Sheriff’s Department responded to a home on Highway 334.

While on the scene, deputies found a woman outside of the residence and learned that her two teenage children, 16 and 19, were barricaded inside the home in their rooms.

Deputies immediately began negotiating with Jason Smith, 44, to let the kids go and for him to come outside without the weapon.

During negotiations, Smith pointed a weapon at the deputies who fired their weapons, striking Smith. Medical aid was immediately rendered but Smith died as a result of his injuries.

The children were removed from the home and taken to a safe environment.

*

The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour celebrated its 25th anniversary on Oct. 20 at the Powerhouse Arts Center.

Guests for the show were the 2022-23 Grisham-Writer-in-Residence, Deesha Philyaw, Oxford synth-pop duo, And the Echo and the Southern Komfort Brass Band.

The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour was founded on October 15, 1997, by former Oxford musicians Caroline Herring and Bryan Ledford, and Square Books co-owner Richard Howorth who also named the show. The show now broadcasts some 30 shows a year, 12 in the spring and 12 in the fall as well as a half-dozen road shows in various cities across the Southeast US.

*

November

The community came out to the Square on Nov. 8 to watch Ole Miss baseball Head Coach Mike Bianco flip the switch on the downtown Christmas lights.

The community came out to the Square on Nov. 8 to watch Ole Miss baseball Head Coach Mike Bianco flip the switch on the downtown Christmas lights.

In anticipation of the biggest home football weekend of the season, the Mayor and Board of Alderman arranged for the lights to be turned on a little earlier this year.

*

Lafayette High Lafayette High School Air Force Junior ROTC cadets Dustin Beard and Casey Ferguson were recognized on Nov. 18 for helping an older man who appeared to be having major health issues at an Ole Miss football game.

During the Ole Miss vs. Auburn home game, the two boys were working at the ROTC concession stand when they noticed a man shaking and wobbling. They asked if the man was OK. The man said he was and walked away and sat down.

After the game, the boys heard that someone needed help. Ferguson and Beard realized it was the same man they spoke with earlier – Butch Palmer, a long-time Ole Miss fan who regularly attends the games.

The boys helped Palmer down to the medical tents to get help. Palmer went to the hospital where he was treated for having a stroke.

After recovering, Palmer reached out to LHS principal Glenn Kitchens who recognized the two students in front of the entire school via a school-wide morning announcement.

Beard is a sophomore this year and Ferguson is a junior. They have both been in the ROTC program since their freshman year.

Beard and Ferguson were also recognized by the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department their life-saving actions.

*

Lifelong Oxford resident Kaye Bryant, 85, became the only person to win the Grand Master Storyteller trophy twice since the sponsoring organization “Spillit” (pronounced Spill It) began.

After winning in 2021, she successfully defended her title in the 2022 Grand Slam storytelling event in Memphis on Nov. 18, receiving the whimsical prize of an eight-ball trophy.

*

December

While the fourth quarter started off dry, it did not end that way.

Heavy rains and thunderstorms during the first week of December postponed the annual Oxford Christmas Parade for several days.

The parade was originally planned to take place on Dec. 5. It was rescheduled for Dec. 9. The parade was eventually able to take place under clear skies on that Friday evening.

The parade is presented by North Central Mississippi REALTORS and the city of Oxford.

*

The Oxford Sears Hometown Store closed its doors for the last time on Dec. 5.

Photo by Adam Brown

The store, located in the Mid-Town Shopping Center, quietly shuttered its doors without even a sign on the door saying it had been closed. However, an employee answering the phone on Dec. 7 said the store was now closed permanently.

On Google, the words, “Permanently Closed” are listed on the information page.

The store is one of about 100 Sears Hometown stores that have closed since May across about 30 states.

*

More than 3 inches of rain was dumped in Lafayette County on Dec. 13, causing some flooding and downed trees.

The storms caused tornado sirens to go off in south Lafayette County and Water Valley; however, no tornado touched down.

Heavy rain flooded County Road 129, which is closed currently, and County Road 105.

The county received several reports of trees across roadways and one report of a tree falling on a truck.

More rain is expected this afternoon and then should taper off toward the evening hours.

The same storm system spawned tornadoes and wreaked havoc from Oklahoma, the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Mississippi and Louisiana, where a boy and his mother were killed and at least 20 others were injured.

*

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors filed a complaint in Chancery Court asking the court to shut down the Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center due to the number of runaway teens and not having a proper license to operate.

According to the complaint, there have been 14 incidents of teens running away from the facility since September. The complaint alleges “neglect and abandonment” due to the facility allowing minor residents to leave without adult supervision or restraint and without requiring prior arrangements for transportation.

The center opened in March 2017 and, according to court documents, nearby residents began experiencing a regular pattern of runaways from the facility, putting stress on local law enforcement.

Lafayette County is asking the Chancery Court to issue a declaratory judgment that Stonewater’s existing policies and practices have caused a public nuisance due to the runaway incidents, are not in conformance with the representations made to the Lafayette County Planning Commission and Board of Superiors and constitutes abuse and neglect of the children in Stonewater’s custody.

The case is pending.

*

A fire temporarily closed the doors to one of downtown Oxford’s most popular restaurants.

The back of Boure’ restaurant after the fire. File photo

On Dec. 22, a fire broke out in the back of Boure’ restaurant at about 5:30 a.m.

Owner John Currence said he was grateful the fire wasn’t worse and hoped to have the restaurant back open as quickly as possible.

He said it appeared the fire started in a trash bin and then spread from there to a dirty linen bin. The fire was mostly outside on a back porch; however, the inside had smoke and water damage.

*

Aptly named an arctic blast, a strong cold front blasted its way into Lafayette County on Dec. 22, with 40 mph wind gusts toppling trees and knocking out power lines.

Within an hour of the wind’s arrival, temperatures dropped quickly, going from 47 degrees to 25 degrees within an hour’s time. Leftover water from earlier rain quickly turned into ice and a dusting of snow started to fall at about 7 p.m.

Sub-freezing temperatures persisted for several days.

During the storm, several trees were toppled with a few knocking out power for about 1,500 homes. One tree fell on a parked car.

The freezing cold temperatures caused a strain on the electric grid causing the Tennessee Valley Authority to ask local electric companies to perform rolling blackouts on Dec. 24 to help stabilize the grid.


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