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TBI: Sevier Jail inmate threatened court officials
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SEVIERVILLE — A Cookeville man who was in the Sevier County Jail for assault and violation of probation upped the ante on his charges by threatening a judge, an assistant district attorney, and a public defender, according to TBI.

Tyler Dakota Matthews, 25, of Cookeville, had been in the Sevier County Jail since Nov. 10, according to jail records. He was charged with violation of probation and three counts of assault; his bond was set at $6,000.

Now he’s facing $50,000 bond, because he allegedly sent letters from the jail threatening court officials.

The indictments allege he threatened Circuit Court Judge Jim Gass, public defender Mendi Winstead, and assistant district attorney general Ron Newcomb.

District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn asked TBI to investigate Matthews in February after he allegedly sent letters threatening the officials.

“The investigation revealed that Matthews wrote letters to a Sevier County judge and an assistant public defender threatening to harm them,” according to information from TBI. “One of the letters also contained threats aimed at an assistant district attorney.”

TBI took its evidence to the Sevier County Grand Jury, which met last week for the first time in several months.

They returned indictments charging him with three counts of extortion and three counts of harassment.

Contact Jeff at jfarrell@themountainpress.com or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress

Sevier Animal Care Center gets $25,000 grant
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The Sevier Animal Care Center staff will better be able to address the cat population thanks to a $25,000 grant from Petco.

“Most of the grant is to do TNR. That is trap, neuter and release of community cats,” director Ashley Thomas said. “What you do with TNR is you target the spot, trap and neuter them all until that area is addressed.”

Thomas said cat populations can explode in communities where neighborhood cats, mostly feral, are left out food. Instead of trapping and killing those cats, the program would spay and neuter them and then release them so the population is controlled.

Thomas explained that if most cats were permanently removed, new and remaining unneutered cats would have bigger litters, making the population explode again.

By returning the cats to the community from which they came, they are there to eat the resources, such as food left out for them, and keeping new cats from moving in.

“TNR is all about releasing them back and they use the resources but there are no new cats,” Thomas said. “We have a big problem with cats in this area. There is a big need to get a program like this off the ground.”

Another portion of the grant will be used to recoup some of the costs of reclaimed pets.

The center waives the fee for spay and neuter for pets that find their way into the shelter and are later reclaimed by the owners.

The shelter also offers microchips at cost, which is $10.

Thomas said in the past the shelter has always just absorbed those costs, knowing that without spaying and neutering the pet that they may be dealing with unwanted puppies or kittens in the future.

Thomas said they work with facilities, including Kindness Counts Animal Clinic, to spay and neuter pets.

The operation will even wave fees for spay and neuter of community cats as long as she is permitted to ear tip them.

Pittman Center considering new alignment for Grassy Branch bridge
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PITTMAN CENTER — A special meeting of the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen will be held Thursday to discuss a proposed resolution involving a new alignment of the Grassy Branch bridge.

According to a Tuesday public notice, Resolution No. 231 would “... notify the Tennessee Department of Transportation of the town’s decision to build the Grassy Branch bridge utilizing the new alignment.”

The Mountain Press contacted a Pittman Center representative for details but did not receive a response by press time.

Multiple public meetings have been held over the years regarding the bridge in the town of approximately 500 residents.

Grassy Branch bridge, which has one lane, has had a “poor condition” rating from TDOT since at least June 2015.

Original plans to replace the bridge were delayed after federal funding went to Gatlinburg for a bridge damaged in the November 2016 fires.

According to a letter from Pittman Center Mayor Jerry Huskey in the town’s May 2020 newsletter, “... the Grassy Branch bridge’s local portion (20% of total project) would be 98% funded by the state’s bridge grant program. This brought the town’s cost down from an estimated $304,823.86, which would require debt issuance, to $6,096.48 with the state being responsible for any overages.”

Huskey went on to explain in his May 2020 letter, “It is the understanding of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, along with town staff, that to be eligible for both state and federal funds, the bridge must be a two-lane bridge ... The larger bridge will require further right-of-way acquisition and have an overall more significant impact on our community. There are several citizens that are dissatisfied with the proposed replacement. However, the town simply cannot afford to replace this bridge without state or federal funding ...”

The weight limit on Grassy Branch bridge has been lowered to three tons and is open only to passenger vehicles.

Emergency repairs costing $6,130.20 were recently completed on the bridge.

“Initial repairs were to fix the pot holes in the bridge,” Town Administrator Candice Gilreath said on April 13. “Once we started with the repairs, our maintenance crew noticed more weak areas in the asphalt that were also in need of repair. Since we already had the bridge closed, we completed the additional repairs.”

Thursday’s meeting begins at 4 p.m. at 2839 Webb Creek Road, Sevierville.

Information is available at www. pittmancentertn.gov or 865-436-5499.

Contact Juli at jneil@themountainpress.com or on Twitter at @NeilWatsonJ.

Ole Smoky Distillery donates to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
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PIGEON FORGE — A $60,000 donation was given Tuesday to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by Ole Smoky Distillery.

The money was raised during a recent fundraising effort at the retail locations in Sevier County and included donations from customers and contributions from the business. A check presentation for a like amount was also recently given to the Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains as part of the same fundraising event.

“It helps immensely locally with patient services, providing emergency grants, travel assistance, research — we have two researchers in the state, it goes toward that — and education,” said Lori Friel, campaign development manager with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Knoxville. “What we raise here stays here. It’ll be for all of East Tennessee.”

The organization’s mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

“We’re very appreciative of Ole Smoky for doing a fundraiser to support patients to allow us to continue to find better treatments and better cures,” Friel said. “Generosity from people like this helps us do that.”

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is one of the leading funders to help advance cancer research. More information about the organization can be found at lls.org.

“Cancer is a very nasty disease that affects way too many of us and it’s our way to help fight that battle,” said Cory Cottongim, Ole Smoky Distillery president of consumer experience and operations.

The distillery operates retail locations in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

“It’s all part of living our values of social and corporate responsibility and having respect for the community,” said Robert Hall, Ole Smoky Distillery CEO.

“We try and give back whenever we can and this is a very worthy charity because it affects so many and we’re pleased to be able to do it, just like we were very pleased to be able to help the Boys & Girls Club out last week.”

Juvenile charged in burnout accident
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PIGEON FORGE — Police here have charged a juvenile with reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident after an incident Thursday when a passenger riding in the bed of his pickup fell out after he did a burnout on the Parkway.

Pigeon Forge Police provide a report on the incident Tuesday, but redacted identifying information on the juvenile including his age and city of residence. It indicates the vehicle had Georgia plates.

It indicates the passenger, 32-year-old Timothy Albert Daigle, of Blue Ridge, Georgia, was airlifted to UT Medical Center. He was later released.

Police were called to the area of the Parkway near the Top Jump attraction at about 9 p.m. Thursday.

“Upon arrival, the tuck was located in the center lane with a crowd of people behind it,” Officer Aaron Loveday reported.

“(Daigle) was lying face down on the pavement and was bleeding heavily from different parts of his head. At this time, Mr. Daigle could not answer questions nor did it appear he was comprehending anything being said to him.”

He was turned over to medical personnel as soon as they arrived, and was airlifted to UT Medical Center, according to the report.

When Dunlap went to talk to the driver, he found the vehicle was no longer present at the scene.

One witness said the car had just left a red light when people stated yelling that a passenger fell out.

“Other passengers on scene were not very cooperative with law enforcement stating things such as ‘they didn’t know who was driving, and it was just a friend.’ ”

Loveday sent out a bulletin for officers to search for the truck, and eventually the driver returned to the scene while officers were still there.

At some point, a person whose name has been redacted told officers that “they were telling (the driver) to ‘give it hell,’ which led to him power braking (holding down the break and the gas at the same time) and taking off. At this time Mr. Daigle slid off the cooler he was sitting on up against the tailgate and fell into the roadway.”

The report indicates the truck was raised, meaning Daigle fell from a considerable height onto the road.

The juvenile driver was given a breathalyzer test, which did not show any blood-alcohol content, according to the report.

He was booked at the Sevier County Juvenile Center.

The accident happened as visitors were arriving for the Smoky Mountain Truckfest at Smokies Stadium as well as for the Pigeon Forge Rod Run.

Pigeon Forge officials have indicated they are reconsidering their approach to car shows after an increase in rowdy behavior at the rod runs.

This year’s Rod Run also included an incident where shots were fired at a Pigeon Forge gas station during a fight, although no one was injured.

The city’s complaints included an increase in what officials called vulgar behavior as well as traffic and behavior on the roads that included speeding and burnouts.

Contact Jeff at jfarrell@themountainpress.com or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress

Questions linger over new records fee
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SEVIERVILLE — While county officials indicated the state Office of Open Records approved a new records fee for the medical examiner’s office, the state said they hadn’t heard from county officials about it.

Sevier County Commission approved increases to several fees during its regular meeting Monday, including the implementation of new fees at the medical examiner’s office. Those fees are a $50 charge for records and $50 for cremation permits.

County Mayor Larry Waters acknowledged they’d received questions about that measure, but said that Emergency Management Director Joe Ayers had contacted the state since then.

“He contacted open records office and my understanding is he has an email that indicates the open records office approves this and we also ran it by the county attorney and we got an email today from him concerning that,” Waters said during Monday’s Commission meeting.

The Mountain Press had inquired last week with the state Open Records Counsel, asking if the new fee followed state laws.

“Absent some other statutory authority for the county to impose charges for records held by the medical examiner, the medical examiner should charge its actual costs to produce copies of public records or impose charges for copies in accordance with our Schedule of Reasonable Charges,” Open Records Counsel Lee Pope said last week.

Asked Tuesday whether the county had gotten new clarification of the new fee, Pope said his office had sent the same information to them as it had to The Mountain Press, and hadn’t heard from them after that.

“I don’t recall the county mayor’s office providing our office with any additional information or reasoning behind the charges,” Pope said.

Asked for copies of the emails Monday, county officials said they would need to get an Open Records Request, which The Mountain Press submitted Tuesday.

The state’s open records law gives government agencies seven business days to respond to those requests; The Mountain Press did not receive a response Tuesday.

During Monday’s meeting, Waters noted Knox County had a $60 fee for records at its medical examiner’s office.

The fee schedule from that office indicates they charge $30 for an autopsy report; they charge $40 for cremation certifications.

Waters said the county medical examiner’s office asked to implement the fee because they’re getting so many calls that they need to add staff and they want to use the fees to help cover those new costs.

The documents fee will be waived for the first copy of an autopsy provided to next of kin.

Contact Jeff at jfarrell@themountainpress.com or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress