As the pages of time turn into a new year, here’s a look back at what happened in 2020, highlighted by COVID-19 and the impact the pandemic had on Franklin County.
The following, the third story in a three-part series, includes featured topics from the October, November and December 2020 Herald Chronicle editions:
Drowning victim’s mother sues City of Winchester
The mother of a 24-year-old Warrenville, Illinois, man who drowned in Tims Ford’s Boiling Fork Creek on June 4 after attempting to evade police is suing the City of Winchester and police officer Sgt. Cody Bishop.
Melissa E. George, a DuPage County, Illinois, resident filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga on Sept. 17 and is suing for compensatory damages “as determined by a jury” for Bishop’s action and the city as his employer.
The lawsuit, filed by the Nashville law firm David Randolph Smith & Associates, states that the city should have its officers trained in water-rescue tactics, and Bishop, as a police officer, should have been able to swim.
Rebels name, mascot live on; School Board decides in 5-3 vote
The Franklin County Rebels name and mascot remained in place in early October after the School Board approved to keep things as they are.
The board’s vote was 5-3 with Chris Guess, CleiJo Walker, Lance Williams, Christine Hopkins and Caycee Hanger Roberts voting to keep the name. Those who supported changing it included Linda Jones, Sarah Marhevsky and Sara Liechty.
Jones made the motion to change the name, and her effort was seconded by Marhevsky.
Those wanting the mascot name removed and a halt to playing “Dixie” have cited that the term “rebel” signifies the oppression linked to slavery.
Those wanting the mascot name to remain cited a lasting tradition they deem needs to be preserved.
Task Force fields input on COVID
The state was continuing its proactive approach toward combatting the COVID-19 pandemic in October, and members from the Governor’s Unified Task Force met with emergency response personnel and city and county officials in the immediate southern Middle Tennessee area.
A special meeting was held in the Franklin County Annex Building with Task Force members fielding questions and input from local officials, including county mayors from Franklin, Coffee and Grundy counties, to figure out ways to get a better handle on reducing the virus’ spread.
FC coronavirus death toll rises to 13
Franklin County had 13 total fatalities from COVID-19 in mid-October with new deaths in the area reported by the Tennessee Department of Health on Oct. 7, Oct. 8 and Oct. 13.
The county had 1,144 total confirmed coronavirus cases at the time with 1,025 of those cases listed as recovered or inactive.
Jail project pushed back again; Feb. 28, 2021, is new target
After repeated construction delays, the Franklin County Jail expansion was expected to be completed by the end of February 2021.
Construction Manager Matthew Bobo, with SEC Contractors, which is handling the project, updated the County Commission in October about the project’s progress.
He said additional problems had surfaced that involved having to rework phone and security system lines that will add to the project’s final cost.
“I don’t know what it’s going to entail,” he told the commission.
The Finance Committee on Oct. 6 reviewed the jail project’s funding that totals $16.899 million.
Carolina pilot injured in plane crash at Sewanee
A 73-year-old Laurens, South Carolina, pilot received non-life-threatening injuries in mid-October when the plane he was flying crashed just after taking off from Franklin County Airport/Sewanee.
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office reports said pilot David Muse had just refueled a fixed-wing experimental single-engine airplane and had taken off when the wind changed. He told deputies he had lost speed which caused the plane to go down, reports said, adding that the plane crashed into trees and onto the ground. Reports said that, although he was injured, Muse was able to get out of the plane.
Franklin County experiences record early voting turnout
Mirroring a nationwide pattern with early voters in long lines waiting to cast ballots, Franklin County experienced a record turnout on Oct. 14.
A total of 1,274 voters cast their ballots during early voting’s first day. When the polls had closed the ensuing Monday, a total of 3,822 had cast their ballots in the first five days of early voting.
Administrator of Elections Margaret Ottley said the turnout was the largest she could recall.
FC coronavirus death toll rises to 16
Franklin County had 16 total fatalities from COVID-19 with new deaths in the area reported by the Tennessee Department of Health on Oct. 14, Oct. 17 and Oct. 20.
There had been six COVID-19 deaths in the county since the start of October.
Contractor says jail target date should be met
The Franklin County Jail expansion should be completed on time with no additional money required, according to the project’s contractor.
Construction Manager Matthew Bobo, with SEC Contractors, which is handling the project, updated the County Commission on Oct. 19 about the expansion’s status and said the new Feb. 28, 2021, target completion date should be met. He presented the commission with a slideshow that displayed the completed jail kitchen area — a major step — along with the remaining sections that need to be finished.
Twin ribbon cuttings mark completion of new middle schools
Oct. 25 was a day of celebration for Franklin County’s students, teachers, and residents with ribbon-cutting ceremonies held at the newly constructed North and South middle schools.
Students, parents, and each school’s faculty and staff were joined by a host of Franklin County’s elected office holders, community and business leaders and School Board members to commemorate the special day.
Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kayla Doney presided over both ribbon-cutting ceremonies. The day’s first ribbon cutting was held at South Middle School at 1 p.m. North Middle School was duly honored with a similar ceremony at 3 p.m.
Winchester officer fired after being arrested
Winchester Police Officer Tristan Delacruz was fired from his position in late October in connection with being arrested for an alleged domestic assault incident in Manchester.
Winchester City Administrator Beth Rhoton confirmed that Delacruz had been released from his position. The incident in Manchester occurred on Oct. 20, and he was arrested again on Oct. 26.
Blackburn discusses Barrett’s confirmation
With Amy Coney Barrett becoming the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, explained in October the details leading up to the historic selection in a Herald Chronicle story.
FC coronavirus deaths reach 22
Franklin County had 22 total fatalities from COVID-19 with new deaths in the area reported by the Tennessee Department of Health toward the last week of October.
Republicans sweep FC election ballot
With a high voter turnout, Republican candidates, from President Donald Trump on down, swept the Franklin County election ballot on Nov. 3.
All Republican candidates finished by recording 70 percent or more of the vote in their given races while Democratic challengers were at about the 25 percent level.
Franklin County’s voter turnout for the election was a record 71.93 percent with 19,193 of the 26,684 registered voters casting ballots, including a total of 10,689 who voted early or absentee.
Secretary of State aids in local election
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett assisted Belvidere resident Lassie Taylor with the early voting process on Oct. 27 at the Franklin County Election Commission Office.
Hargett visited eight early voting sites in Tennessee in one day with Franklin County being his seventh stop. He said his goal was to see that safety measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic were being strictly followed, and Franklin County passed with flying colors.
Ribbon cutting christens TCAT campus
Oct. 28 proved to be a landmark day for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Winchester with a special ribbon cutting held to commemorate Franklin County’s newest education facility.
About 75 attended the event, and plans are to have a special open house in the 2021 spring season.
Laura Monks, TCAT president, said the school’s administrators were holding off on scheduling the open house due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Piezan co-owner arrested on weapons charges from New York
The co-owner of Piezan Pizzeria Italiano in downtown Winchester was arrested in November on a bench warrant from New York issued for second- and third-degree felony weapons charges.
Anthony Ranauro, 7133 Owasco Road, Owasco, New York, was taken in custody and transported to the Franklin County Jail.
He was arrested by Franklin County Sheriff’s Office deputies on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service. Ranauro, who was going by the name of Antonio “Tony” Renaldo, had opened Piezan Pizzeria Italiano at 44 S. Jefferson St. in downtown Winchester.
FC coronavirus death toll rises to 26
Franklin County had 26 total fatalities from COVID-19 with new deaths in the area reported by the Tennessee Department of Health during the first week in November.
American Legion honors deceased veterans
The parking area in front of the Winchester Home Depot was packed on Nov. 7 with area veterans, families and supporters with American Legion Post 44 hosting a dedication ceremony to honor Franklin County’s deceased veterans.
The Post 44 Flag and Cross Memorial ceremony called attention to the 178 American flags and white wooden crosses placed throughout the area as a patriotic memorial to Franklin County’s deceased veterans.
Veterans who paid the ultimate price in service to their country were honored with the letters “KIA” on their crosses, which denotes that they were killed in action.
The dedication ceremony featured a large gathering of area veterans, family members and community supporters who attended to the event to honor Franklin County’s veterans.
Former Winchester Police Officer Tristan Delacruz arrested a third time
Former Winchester Police Officer Tristan Delacruz was arrested for a third time in connection with an assault incident, according to Franklin County Jail records.
Jail reports said Delacruz was arrested for aggravated assault on Nov. 4 and released from jail on Nov. 5.
COVID-19 shuts down North Middle basketball
A player for the North Middle School girls basketball team tested positive in early November for COVID-19, and the Gatorettes were shut down for several weeks as a result, according to head coach Tammie Tobitt.
Four scheduled contests were affected by the shutdown.
Winchester striving to build community greenhouse
As a way to promote healthier lifestyles, the City of Winchester applied for a state grant in November to build a greenhouse and grow plants to allow select residents to start their own gardening projects.
The City Council unanimously approved an application for a $78,900 Healthy Built Environment grant from the Tennessee Department of Health to build a greenhouse, potentially on a city-owned lot at 100 Oaks Street, near the Winchester Hat Corporation.
Honoring those from FC who served their country
Area communities celebrated Veterans Day on Nov. 11 by holding special ceremonies to honor those who had given so much to ensure the nation enjoys the freedom they so unselfishly fought for.
Increasing COVID-19 cases send students home
With the active coronavirus cases approaching 300 in Franklin County, the School System made adjustments in November to have students study from home in a distance/virtual learning format.
Director of Schools Stanley Bean made the announcement that Decherd Elementary, South Middle and Huntland schools were going to a virtual format with all other schools joining them later in virtual-learning days.
Controversy over COVID quarantining at North Middle
Confirmed COVID-19 cases interrupted North Middle School’s basketball teams’ schedules, leading to questions about why the girls were initially quarantined, but the boys weren’t immediately when a player tested positive.
Director of Schools Stanley Bean said that a decision was made to quarantine the North girls on the afternoon of Nov. 5 after a player tested positive, and the scheduled game that evening was called off.
He added that the close proximity between the time when the test results were available and when the game was scheduled resulted in notifying the Health Department to make the decision to call off the game and quarantine the girls players.
Bean said that the system has a protocol to notify Benita Nolan, coordinator of school heath, when COVID-19 cases occur, and she forwards the information to the Health Department, which determines whether quarantining should occur.
School Board pays tribute to Clardy
Franklin County’s two new middle schools had the books closed by year’s end, signifying the two projects were completely done, according to Construction Adviser Gary Clardy.
Clardy updated the School Board in November on the new North and South middle school projects’ status and said the last minor details on each school were being completed.
North and South students have been in their respective new schools since the new academic year began on Aug. 5.
Director of Schools Stanley Bean said that Clardy, who hails from Franklin County and is a product of the local school system, had done an outstanding job making the two projects’ construction phases progress seamlessly.
Bean said Clardy’s connection to his home county and his experience of being involved in major school-construction projects in Tennessee added to the ease in how the projects were handled.
Clardy said the school system and others involved in the projects were great to work with and made the work he had to do enjoyable.
FC hits new highs for active COVID cases, death toll hits 29
Franklin County had 1,760 total confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 deaths from the disease in mid-November, according to statistics released by the Tennessee Department of Health.
Food City breaks ground in Winchester
Winchester officially moved a major step forward on Nov. 20 in getting a large supermarket on the city’s south side with Food City breaking ground for a 54,000-square-foot facility.
Food City representatives, Winchester city and Franklin County officials, State Sen. Janice Bowling and others attended the ceremony at Food City’s 12-acre construction site at 2211 Cowan Highway.
Steve Smith, Food City CEO and president, said plans are to have the supermarket open in June 2021, and it will provide between 170 and 180 jobs.
Education commissioner visits Franklin County
With a U.S. presidential administration change just around the corner, Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn had been considering how alterations at the federal level will trickle down to the state and local levels in the coming months.
Schwinn was on a tour of school systems in the area on Nov. 19 and visited Franklin County.
Officers run to help Special Olympics
With COVID-19 repeatedly cancelling events, Franklin County’s Special Olympics were also hit by the pandemic, so area law enforcement officers joined forces in November in a special Torch Run.
About 35 officers from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s police departments, the Manchester Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol went the distance from the Estill Springs Police Department to Franklin County High School in Winchester.
‘Bo Duke’ performs in FC; Montana Drive-In hosts John Schneider, special guests
Actor, filmmaker, and country music chart-topper John Schneider premiered his new movie “Stand on It” at the Montana Drive-in in Estill Springs on Nov. 23.
Schneider wrote, directed, and stars in the film, which is a tribute to the 1976 comedy classic “Smokey and the Bandit.”
In addition to the film premiere, fans were treated with live musical performances by Schneider, Cody McCarver (of Confederate Railroad), Keith Burns (of Trick Pony), and local favorite Alison McCormick, who kicked off the evening’s musical performances.
Merry Little Downtown Christmas lives on
COVID-19 may have been leaving its impression on the Merry Little Downtown Christmas celebration, but the event still went on in December with safety measures in mind.
Winchester Downtown Program Executive Director Lauren Martin said before the event was held that the annual Merry Little Downtown Christmas celebration would be somewhat different in 2020.
“The event isn’t really cancelled, it’s mostly just shifting to a more open space,” she said, referring to how the giveaways to children will take place at the old Franklin County High School football field on Dinah Shore Boulevard.
New Winchester Fire Station praised from afar
The new Winchester Fire Station No. 1 was praised locally for the amenity it is to the city and the area, and those accolades also came from the national level.
The Fire Station was featured in the November 2020 edition of Firehouse, a trade publication geared toward the firefighting profession.
The station also received the “Bronze Station Renovation Award” from the Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, publication’s Station Design Awards segment.
Fire Chief Gary Greeson said having the station featured in a national trade publication was significant.
Commissioner Hiles’ wife arrested after alleged domestic dispute
Amy Hiles, wife of Franklin County Commissioner Sam Hiles, was arrested in connection with a domestic assault incident at the couple’s residence on Dec. 7 where the commissioner and their son were allegedly injured by a vehicle she sped away in.
The incident involved Mrs. Hiles allegedly using a crowbar and a pitchfork against her husband.
Mrs. Hiles was charged with two counts of domestic assault, one count of aggravated assault, driving under the influence, and possession of a firearm while intoxicated, according to Sheriff’s Office reports.
Passenger killed in Decherd crash; two others airlifted
A passenger was killed and two others were airlifted to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga on Dec. 5 following a one-vehicle accident on Mary Sharp Drive in Decherd, according to first responders.
The deceased passenger was identified as 18-year-old Casey Gann from Tullahoma, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol reports, The driver, 20-year-old Michael Patillo from Tullahoma was injured as was a minor-aged passenger.
Large audience enjoys Cowan Christmas Parade
The 56th annual Cowan Christmas Parade took place on Dec. 5 amid sunny conditions and cloudless skies with the event drawing a large audience.
The turnout lined both sides of Cumberland Street in layers from Davis Street near the South Middle School starting point to Cowan Elementary School, where the parade culminated.
Children of all ages enjoyed the entries in the event, and candy was tossed like snow by parade participants from the floats.
Montana Drive In finalist in COVID business contest
The COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses in ways owners never previously imagined, forcing them to adapt to remain viable, and Franklin County’s Montana Drive In was recognized nationally for its efforts to overcome the odds.
The Drive-In had been selected as a finalist in Barclays US Consumer Bank’s “Small Biz Big Wins” contest. The Franklin County theater was chosen for the top 10 from a 3,000-entry, nationwide field.
North Lake Principal George Butler dies from COVID-19
North Lake Elementary School Principal George Butler died on Dec. 14 from complications related to COVID-19.
Director of Schools Stanley Bean confirmed that Mr. Butler, who was the Franklin County School System’s longest-serving employee, had passed away at about 12:30 p.m. on that day at Southern Tennessee Regional Health System.
Bean, who had known Mr. Butler since childhood, said the loss was difficult to bear, and he will be sorely missed.
“Everybody knew him. He’s the only principal North Lake has ever had,” Bean said. “It’s a major tragedy losing Mr. George Butler.”
Eldridge: No more money for jail project
County Commissioner David Eldridge maintained in December he would vote against appropriating additional money to finish the Franklin County Jail expansion, budgeted at $16.884 million.
“I won’t vote for another dollar on this jail project,” Eldridge said at the County Commission’s Dec. 7 meeting. “I can’t speak for 15 other county commissioners, but I’m through.”
Eldridge told the commission that the jail project has involved issues that could have been addressed on the front end to keep costs down, but that didn’t happen.
Decherd Christmas Parade shines bright on rainy day
Dec. 12 proved to be rainy amid wet conditions, but in true holiday spirt and gift-giving fashion, the weather cleared just before Decherd’s 14th annual Christmas Parade began.
The event, called “Lights on Main Street,” featured 37 entries plus additional horses and other Christmas-related participants not involved in the judging competition.
Christy Hanson, a Decherd Recreation Committee member who was overseeing the parade’s operation, said this year’s event was larger than last year, and it offered a lot to spectators who lined Main Street to watch the big show.
Roy Partin was the grand marshal, and Hanson said it was a fitting tribute to the former Decherd alderman to have him selected for the coveted position.
Two corrections officers fired for outside involvement with former inmates
Two Franklin County Sheriff’s Office corrections officers were fired in December for being involved with former inmates after they had been released from custody.
Sheriff Tim Fuller said that the infractions did not occur inside the jail, but it is against company policy for Sheriff’s Office personnel to be involved with former inmates.
Fuller said the rules are in place for good reason — to ensure security and trust among Sheriff’s Office personnel.
Jail project’s funding totals $16.899 million
A financial report in December that the Finance Committee forwarded to the County Commission said that $16.884 million had been expended on the jail expansion project, leaving $15,568 to finish the project without requiring an additional appropriation.
FC sets new record for daily COVID cases
Franklin County had 2,809 total confirmed coronavirus cases and 41 deaths from the disease, according to statistics released from the Tennessee Department of Health on Dec. 15.
School system to decide pandemic schedule
Despite word being spread on Facebook that Tennessee’s schools would be closed until Feb. 15, 2021, due to COVID-19, Franklin County agreed to decide its scheduling as circumstances develop, according to Director of Schools Stanley Bean.
Bean said in mid-December that students were set to resume classes on Jan. 6, and a decision on whether to close school and go to virtual learning would be made around that time, depending on the severity of cases.
Students went to virtual learning on Dec. 15 due to a spike in COVID cases and had the holiday break extending through Jan. 6.
Huntland Parade spreads holiday cheer a week late
For the first time in 28 years, the Huntland Christmas Parade was postponed a week due to rainy weather, but the show went on Dec. 19 with participants and spectators enjoying the festive event.
The parade is annually sponsored by the Huntland Volunteer Fire Department, and Chief Troy Gamble said he didn’t like having to deviate from the event’s original Dec. 12 schedule.
However, the goal was to make the best of the circumstances, and he deemed the parade had lived up to expectations.
FC coronavirus death toll rises to 44
Franklin County had 44 total fatalities from COVID-19 with new deaths in the area reported by the Tennessee Department of Health on Dec. 17 and Dec. 20.
Chamber ‘Banquet’ held from afar amid pandemic
The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Membership Banquet has been held routinely for the past 71 years, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the traditional December event schedule, resulting in socially distanced presentations just before Christmas.
Executive Director Kayla Doney explained the Chamber’s approach toward honoring Franklin County’s outstanding business leaders and entities.
“The year could not be complete without our Annual Membership Banquet,” she said. “Even though it may look different this year, we still wanted to recognize the outstanding people and businesses in our community. Congratulations to our end-of-year award winners.”
• Large Business of the Year — Southern Tennessee Regional Health System-Winchester.
• Outstanding Citizen of the Year — Cliff Wilson, the Health System’s chief executive officer.
• Small Business of the Year — Treasures, a Winchester gift, card and jewelry shop.
• Outstanding Young Professional — Crista Rogers, Walnut Hill Coffee Co. owner.
• 2020 Outstanding Community Service Award — Franklin County first responders.
Two killed in Dec. 28 collision
Two Franklin County men working on a broken-down truck on Beans Creek Road were killed on Dec. 28 when an oncoming vehicle collided with the stalled vehicle, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office reports.
The men were identified as 43-year-old Jonathan Stines from Belvidere and 23-year-old Dalton Thompson from Huntland.
Commission eyes March to replace Hiles
The Franklin County Commission is looking toward its March 2021 meeting to replace Commissioner Sam Hiles, who resigned on Dec. 17, according to County Mayor David Alexander.
Hiles held the District 8, Seat B commission position.
Alexander said Hiles’ leaving office was immediate.
Hiles explained his reasons for stepping down from the position in his resignation letter.
“At this time, I need to focus on my children and my work,” he said. “I have enjoyed serving the community and hope to do so again one day in the future.
“To the people of Franklin County, thank you all.”
Nashville explosion impacts FC internet
AT&T internet and cellphone service that was interrupted by a Christmas Day bombing in downtown Nashville, causing multi-state outages, was mostly restored by Dec. 28, according to a company press release.
The early morning explosion involved a recreational camper vehicle, and three people were injured.
The explosion also destroyed a section of the city’s downtown area, including significant damage to a key AT&T transmission facility, AT&T reported.
The impact reached Franklin County, where businesses with internet connections linked to AT&T were without service.