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Pilot in 2021 crash misled passenger, FAA
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SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors say a pilot who crashed his helicopter in Sevier County last Christmas had omitted information about disqualifying medical conditions when he submitted medical records to the FAA, and that he defrauded the passenger who died in the crash.

Court records show prosecutors in Utah filed new indictments last month against Matthew Jones, who was flying the helicopter that crashed near the Cocke County line last Dec. 29. Juliann Wagner Gerritsen, who was riding in the helicopter, died at the scene from injuries caused in the crash.

Gerritsen is named as “J.G.” in the new court documents.

“Beginning in our around Nov. 2, 2021, and continuing until on our about Dec. 28, 2021, Jones was involved in a scheme and artifice to defraud J.G. and J.W., to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises, and omissions of material fact,” the federal indictment states.

The documents don’t identify J.W. outside of those initials.

Jones had lied about being a certified flight instructor and certified pilot in helicopters and planes, according to the court documents.

He was a military veteran, and his medical records showed he received a 20% disability rating for having seizures and that he suffered a stroke on June 20, 2020.

Pilots are required to provide medical information to the FAA to make sure they are medically able to fly, and in December Jones electronically submitted data that failed to disclose his history of seizures, or that he’d suffered a stroke, according to the court documents.

That submission to the FAA would have come after a judge ordered him not to fly.

FAA regulations would have disqualified him from flying based on that history, according to the documents.

Jones was already in legal trouble when he convinced Gerritsen to start a business with him.

An earlier indictment, filed last October, alleged that he defrauded another family by pretending to be a licensed flight instructor and taking about $10,000 in payments from them in 2019. He was charged in that indictment with six counts of wire fraud for electronic messages involving that scheme, as well as two counts of operating as an airman without an airman certificate.

By the time Jones came to Sevier County to pick up a helicopter with Gerritsen, the judge overseeing that case had ordered him not to fly or leave the state.

In his terms of release signed Nov. 16, Jones signified he accepted those rules.

But the new indictments indicate he had started his scheme with Gerritsen just weeks earlier, on Nov. 2. That’s the date they created Lyfted LLC, which listed him as a flight instructor, as well as owner and operator of the business.

Court records show that he ignored warnings from people at the Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge Airport when he decided to fly out in inclement weather last year. He crashed shortly after leaving.

The new indictments charge him with six more counts of wire fraud, and two more counts of operating as an airman without an airman certificate.

Jones remains paralyzed as a result of the injuries he sustained in the crash. He is in federal custody, and a judge rules this week that should remain detained because he failed to comply with the terms of his earlier release.

Contact Jeff at or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress

Gatlinburg's new courts ready for play
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Dedicated courts for the sport of pickleball are now open at Gatlinburg’s Mynatt Park, and the recently renovated Mills Park basketball court was re-opened for play on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

The renovated basketball court comes with a twist, as the course has also been redesigned for 3-on-3 soccer play, complete with markings on the surface and goals. A wall and fence has also been installed around the court to keep both basketball and soccer balls within the confines of the facility.

“The Recreation Department is delighted to reopen this popular court for play in Mills Park,” Recreation Director Laurence Evans said. “Soccer is a popular sport amongst our citizens and this redesigned court will give another option for those interested in playing the game in smaller confines.”

The court is open for the public to use on a first come, first serve basis. Lighting will be installed around the court in the near future.

The three pickleball courts opened for use at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, and are open for the public to use on a first come, first serve basis, when no organized play is ongoing. No lighting is available at the courts, so play is limited from dawn to dusk. The courts are located at the Don Watson Tennis Center and parking is available near the facility.

“Pickleball has become an increasingly popular sport over the past several years and the Recreation Department is very pleased to add this opportunity to our athletic and recreation program offerings in Gatlinburg,” Evans said.

The pickleball courts are the first municipal-owned courts dedicated to the sole use of pickleball players in Sevier County.

The court improvements were among many upgrades to the city’s parks system, including new walking trails, upgraded bathrooms and a new stone grill built by Ray Burkett in Mynatt Park. At Mills Park, the city has also invested in a new dog park, which opened in Fall 2021 with a grand opening in March 2022.

Berrier a finalist for supervisor of the year
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SEVIERVILLE — Each year the Tennessee Department of Education recognizes a principal and supervisor of the year, and one of Sevier County’s own is a finalist.

Tonya Berrier, director of elementary education in the Sevier County School System, is one of nine finalists for supervisor of the year. They will announce a winner later this fall.

Stephanie Huskey, interim director of the Sevier County School System, said it is a recognition that is much deserved.

“Tonya Berrier’s only agenda is to help children,” Huskey said. “I’ve not met many people who have had such a heart for kids than her.”

Huskey said she has known Berrier for a long time, since Huskey served as a principal, and she said Berrier always been someone who supports educators in their mission to help children thrive.

“She’s approachable. She listens, truly listens to what you ask her to do. She follows up in a timely manner. Some of us have good intentions but don’t always do that. She’s just so pleasant,” Huskey said.

Huskey said she’s recognized around the area for her knowledge as well, often being called by people in other systems for advice.

“So I was not surprised by this designation for her,” Huskey said.

Berrier’s supervisor, Stacia Lewis, Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction, praised Berrier’s dedication to her job.

“I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Tonya. She’s one of the hardest workers I know,” Lewis said.

Lewis said Berrier would probably find her greatest legacy is the success of students long after they leave the Sevier County School System, and Lewis contends that success is in many cases due to the programs Berrier has put in place.

“Tonya is driven. She works very long hours so that is indicative of not only her commitment but her dedication to the students of Sevier County,” Lewis said.

Lewis credits Berrier for the successful implementation of new English Language Arts instruction, creating goals and monitoring the success of the steps they implement to reach those goals.

“We want every child to be a writer, reader and thinker,” Lewis said.

Berrier’s staff have a lot to look up to, as she mentors them in their professional development.

“As I came into this new role last year, she’s been very patient and understanding and just a great mentor in this new role. As I have gone into that role I could not have done it without her,” said Nikki Hensley, Title I coordinator, who has responsibilities Berrier once undertook.

“I think the biggest thing is her servant heart. She has a heart for servant leadership.”

Rebekah Owens, Title I Family Engagement Coordinator, echoed those sentiments.

“She’s always very supportive and encouraging of the work I do. She even helps brainstorm with me new ideas to better support families, schools and students,” Owens said.

“When a challenge comes up she is always willing to help you overcome it. I’m very thankful and blessed to have her as my direct supervisor.”

Berrier herself doesn’t take a lot of credit for the work they accomplish, instead pointing to her staff and coworkers.

“There is just work to be done and I try to get it done every day,” Berrier said. “I have great people who I work with every day.”

“I’m always willing to serve and probably less willing to stand up and get the recognition for it,” she added.

SCSO still investigating shots fired report
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JONES COVE — Sheriff’s deputies filed evading arrest and traffic charges Tuesday against a man who fled as they investigated reports of shots fired near Jones Cove Elementary School, but not charges related to possession of a weapon.

Deputy Dexter Robbins charged 33-year-old Joseph Inman with driving without a license, evading arrest, and financial responsibility.

Robbins was responding to a report of shots fired at an address in the 4500 block of Jones Cove, which also includes the elementary school.

The school was placed on lockdown while officers investigated the report.

As Robbins pulled into the address from the report, he saw a car speeding toward his location and tried to make a stop, but the car sped away, according to the warrants.

As Robbins pursued, Inman turned onto nearby Bogard Road and then ran off the road and hit an embankment and a church sign.

Inman surrendered after that; the warrants don’t indicate whether Robbins found a gun.

Chief Deputy Jeff McCarter said Wednesday that the report of shots fired remains under investigation.

Records indicate Inman was released from the Sevier County Jail on $1,000 bond.

Contact Jeff at or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress

PF moves ahead with water expansion plan
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PIGEON FORGE — City Commission took the first official step Monday toward extending a new water line to its source on Douglas Lake, with Gatlinburg and Sevier County expected to participate in the project as well.

Pigeon Forge’s waters treatment plant helps provide water for the water system and Sevier County, as well as residents and visitors to the city.

The city is getting ready to extend a new line that would run alongside the existing line, while refurbishing the water treatment plant to improve its capacity.

“The city of Gatlinburg as well as the county will pledge their funds to us because we will be the lead agent in this since it comes into our plant,” City Manager Earlene Teaster said.

Pigeon Forge commissioners voted Monday to accept a grant of about $1 million from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, to use for engineering and design for the project.

During that phase they’ll consider several parts of the project, including whether to install a larger line to prepare for even more growth.

They’ll be seeking a larger grant in the future to pay for construction of the line, Teaster said.

Also Monday, commission approved a bid to tear down a building on Pine Mountain Road as part of the expansion of the municipal campus. Commissioners also approved a new agreement with the Ripken Experience, which includes the fields being made available for the attraction at Wear Farm City Park.

Contact Jeff at or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress