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A year of progress, change

For Park Hills, 2017 was a year full of progress and controversy. While the city forged ahead on large projects like the St. Joe Drive Bridge or the Fairgrounds Drive Project, officials had to contend with members of city leadership being charged with serious crimes. The following are highlights of the goings on in Park Hills in 2017.

January

Park Hills swore in a new treasurer, Brandy Marler who had previously worked in the water department.

After facing continued delays, the project to demolish and replace the bridge on St. Joe Drive spanning Union-Pacific rail lines was officially begun as contractor Kozeny-Wagner received the go-ahead from the railroad to begin demolition.

City crews broke ground at Haney Park to install new tennis courts.

February

Park Hills City Administrator Matt Whitwell was arrested following an incident in Festus. Whitwell was driving a city-owned vehicle and was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and driving while intoxicated.

Long-time councilman and community leader Larry Kelly passed away. At the time of his death, he was running for reelection for his council seat.

March

Park Hills Councilman Steven Sutton was charged with drug trafficking following a traffic stop in Ste. Genevieve. Sutton and three others in the vehicle were found to be in possession of a large quantity of methamphetamine.

The Central School District voted to move its softball season to the spring, joining the majority of schools in the conference.

April

Daniel Naucke was elected as Park Hills mayor, winning about 60 percent of the vote.

Whittwell resigned following his February DWI charges.

Mark McFarland was elected to the Central R-III Board of Education. Dennis Norris and Elaine Gordon were reelected to their seats.

May

Benjamin Lashley was appointed to the Park Hills City Council to fill the seat vacated by Councilman Sutton following his arrest and subsequent drug trafficking charges. Despite his arrest, Sutton was reelected in the April election but vacated the seat by virtue of not being able to be sworn in.

McFarland was appointed as interim city administrator for the City of Park Hills. A former teacher, McFarland had also recently been elected to the Central School Board and previously sat on the Flat River City Council before consolidation and the Park Hills City Council in the city’s early days.

The Central School District revitalized its summer school program by rebranding it as a “summer adventure.” Among the activities students participated in over the summer was a visit from an Air Evac helicopter crew.

June

The St. Joe Drive Bridge project was delayed due to the extreme incline approaching both sides of the bridge.

Ground was broken on the Fairgrounds Drive project, which will more directly connect US 67 to St. Joe State Park.

July

The St. Joe Drive Bridge opened for traffic, featuring a more stable base and a pedestrian walkway on one side.

The Central School District voted to no longer recognize valedictorian and salutatorian distinctions at a planning session before the school year.

Duane Mcallister was appointed to the position of Ward 2 councilman following previous councilwoman Sara Cruse vacating the seat due to moving outside of city limits.

August

John Reeves was hired as the new Park Hills fire chief. Reeves came with more than 30 years of firefighting experience.

The Park Hills Public Library expanded its list of borrowable items to include cookware such as pans, bowls and utensils.

September

The Park Hills Post Office was recognized by members of local VFW auxiliaries for its continued assistance with sending care packages to soldiers overseas.

Students in the Central School District were visited by members of the Leadington VFW Post on Sept. 11. The veterans explained the reason for remembering the events of Sept. 11, 2001, a day many students are too young to have experienced.

October

Central High School Principal Brad Coleman was named Principal of the Year for the Southeast Region of the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals.

Kerston Furry and Holden Mayberry were named Central Homecoming Queen and King before the homecoming game against Fredericktown.

November

The Park Hills City Council held a meeting with Police Chief Bill Holloway and Detective Sgt. Todd Inserra to discuss the city’s growing drug problem and how to best respond.

The Central School District hired new administrators. Tracie Casey was hired as principal of Central Elementary, Laurie Huff was hired as principal of West Elementary and Lori England was hired as curriculum coordinator.

December

The Little Master and Miss Christmas Contest following the Hefner Furniture Christmas Parade collected more than 6,500 canned goods to be donated to area food pantries. The contest was hosted by the River Worship Center in Park Hills.

Park Hills Economic Developer Norm Lucas left the city after 18 years of service and countless projects being completed. He was replaced by Anna Kleiner, whose experience with the City of Park Hills goes back to the days of consolidation.


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Police, community step up

The community has pulled together for an area family who lost everything in a house fire on New Year’s Day.

Jenny Parker said her sister, Candace Kitchell, has been overwhelmed with kindness after a fire destroyed all her family's belongings. 

"...Everybody got out and her fiancé went back in to save the animals," Parker said. "An officer had to pull him out because he was determined to save every animal they have.”

Parker said fortunately all the kids made it out and they were able to rescue their pets. It was really cold that morning and it took the fire department a few minutes to get there.

“They got it out once they got here. The fire had spread so quickly,” said Parker. “The only room that was burnt was the room it started in and everything else had smoke and water damage. It’s horrible, you can’t get the smell out.”

Parker is amazed at how the community, especially the Leadington Police Department, has helped. She said that it is unbelievable to see the number of donations that have been brought to her house and the police department.

She explained it all started as a post on Facebook to help get clothes for the kids, because when they came to her house they had nothing on.

“The little boys sleep in their undies and that was all they had on,” said Parker. “So that was our main priority at first, but now we are so overwhelmed with clothes that we will actually have some to donate back to other organizations.”

“They are good on clothes now. One couple went to Walmart and bought the kids clothes, shoes and jackets,” said Parker. “It has been amazing. Right now we are trying to figure out what they need still. They have gotten some monetary donations and actually went shopping to get their basic household stuff such as toilet paper and other items that are needed on a daily basis.”

Parker said people have come from all over to help. A lady from as far away as De Soto brought clothes for them. 

Kitchell and her family was able to move into a rental house next door to where they lived before the fire. 

Parker said they went to a rental company to get a stove, refrigerator and a couch, because they needed to have those items. They do hope they can find the items otherwise, since renting is expensive.

Their washing machine froze up and it’s unusable, but they were able to salvage the dryer.

“They had one bed donated to them for their daughter and a TV was also donated,” said Parker. 

She said they are trying to find a set of bunk beds with a full mattress on the bottom and a twin on top because the three boys share a room. Sheets are needed for the beds as well as a table and chairs and rugs for the concrete floors.

"Right now they are using a mattress that someone loaned them, but they are going to need a bed for themselves and dressers.”

They lost their car keys, their cell phone and the Tablets the children got for Christmas. 

“They literally lost everything they just got for Christmas and I know someone in the community was working on giving them a Christmas,” said Parker. “They even lost one of their school Chromebooks and I don’t think they had the insurance on it because it was so expensive.”

“I was not expecting so many to come together and help them,” said Parker. “To see everyone come together the way they have warms my heart. My sister is still in shock and broke down and cried because she can’t believe all the help she got. She is extremely grateful and the kids were able to go to school with coats and everything. They didn’t go long without things they needed.”

Leadington Police Chief Dustin McKinney said they have received call after call and have had people coming in. He added there was one lady who brought in 20 bags of clothing.

“There was someone who wrote a $1,000 check to the family to help buy items they need,” said McKinney. “There have also been smaller donations and a group is coming in to bring Christmas presents this week. We are going to deliver them on Sunday for another round of Christmas since they lost everything in the fire.”

McKinney said this family has been Leadington residents for years and he has known them for years. He said once they posted about the family needing help, it opened the floodgates.

“It has been all-around awesome turnout of people giving back to this family,” said McKinney. “There are four kids: a 14-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son and two 9-year-old twin boys ... It has been amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of this community and the things they have been doing.”

Community member Kelly Linck Sellinger donated several items to the family and started to think about the kids and what she could do for them to bring them happiness after the tragedy they experienced.

“I just couldn’t imagine going through what they have and losing their whole Christmas,” said Sellinger. “I want them to know everything is still good even though it was a tragedy. I want them know there are things to still be happy about.”

Sellinger said she was having the donations taken to the Leadington Police Department so everyone knew they could trust where they were taking the donations.

“I have several items that I am giving them and I’m not sure what else has been donated for the Christmas for them,” said Sellinger. “I did ask what things they may like and I’m not sure if the children know we are doing this for them in addition to everything else.”

Anyone interested in making a donation for a Christmas gift or any household item the family may need can drop them off at the Leadington Police Department. For those who would like to make a monetary donation, an account is set up at New Era Bank under Candace Kitchell.


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Ice, freezing rain possible Sunday

The National Weather Service issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook for the region Thursday afternoon, calling for a winter storm to move through the area this weekend that may cause possible travel issues in the days ahead.

According to NWS, the winter storm will bring a wintry mix to the area on Sunday. Precipitation is expected to start briefly as a mixture of snow and sleet before transitioning over to freezing rain and eventually rain as temperatures rise into the mid to upper-30s.

NWS is warning that the mixture of snow, sleet and freezing rain could cause hazardous travel on Sunday.

The good news is that after a slight chance of rain, snow and freezing rain on Monday morning, a change in the weather pattern will bring warmer temperatures to the Parkland through at least Thursday.

Here's the NWS forecast for the upcoming week:

Today will see partly sunny skies, with a high near 27, along with a light and variable wind becoming northeast around 6 mph in the afternoon. In the evening, expect partly cloudy skies with a low around 6 and a northeast wind of 3-6 mph.

Saturday will be sunny, with a high near 25 and a northeast wind around 6 mph, becoming southeast in the afternoon. Overnight, the skies will be mostly cloudy, with a low around 17 and a south wind of 6-8 mph.

Sunday will bring snow and sleet before 2 p.m., then sleet between 2 and 3 p.m. and then rain after 3 p.m. The expected high will be around 34. The chance of precipitation is 80 percent. New snow and sleet accumulations of less than half-an-inch is possible.

In the evening, the Parkland could see rain, possibly mixed with freezing rain, before 3 a.m. Freezing rain, possibly mixed with sleet is possible between 3 and 4 a.m. and then freezing rain likely after 4 a.m. The low will be around freezing and the chance of precipitation is 90 percent.

Monday will bring a slight chance of rain, snow and freezing rain before 10 a.m., followed by a slight chance of rain between 10 a.m. and noon. Skies will be partly sunny, with a high near 43. The chance of precipitation is 20 percent. The evening hours will be mostly clear, with a low around 25.

Tuesday will be mostly sunny with a high near 44. In the evening, expect partly cloudy skies, with a low around 27.

Wednesday is forecast to be mostly sunny, with a high near 46. In the evening, the area has a slight chance of rain and snow. The skies will be mostly cloudy, with a low around 33 and a 20 percent chance of precipitation.

Thursday will see a 40 percent chance of rain under mostly cloudy skies and a high near 45.

For the latest NWS outlooks, watches and warnings, check out the Daily Journal website at www.dailyjournalonline.com.


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Area man injured in crash

A two-vehicle accident that took place at 3:07 p.m. Wednesday on southbound U.S. 67, south of Papin Road in Jefferson County, resulted in the injury of a Bonne Terre man.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the accident occurred when a 2000 Jeep Cherokee driven by Theresa Wilkinson, 49, of French Village stopped for traffic before making a right turn into the path of a 1993 Chevrolet S10 driven by 23-year-old Richard C. Stricker.

The front of the first vehicle struck the left rear of Stricker's vehicle which then traveled off the right side of the roadway and overturned.

Stricker, who was reportedly not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, was transported by Valle Ambulance District to Mercy Hospital-Jefferson where he was treated for moderate injuries.


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Explosive device leads to charges

An area man has been charged with two felonies after he went to police about an explosive device.

Brian Duncan, 43, of Leadwood, is being charged with a class D felony of possession of a controlled substance and a class D felony of unlawful possession of an explosive weapon.

According to a probable cause statement, on Dec. 25 Duncan came to the Leadwood Police Department and spoke with Leadwood Police Chief William Dickey about an explosive device. Duncan told Dickey that when he woke up the day before on Dec. 24 he went out to his truck and found the explosive device in the back seat of his truck.

The chief and his sergeant took the explosive device, later identified as a pipe bomb, and placed it in a brown evidence bag. Dickey reported that when he looked at the pipe bomb there wasn’t anything inside of it and it also appeared to be old since there was dust on it.

After Duncan handed over the bomb the chief told him he would come to his house to speak with him. The chief said after several attempts of trying to make contact with Duncan, he finally contacted the police department and said he was being stalked by “the family.”

Dickey asked Duncan to tell him again about the pipe bomb and Duncan said he traded a pocket knife to a guy in Leadwood for it. Dickey asked Duncan who the person was that he traded with and Duncan said he didn’t know the guy. He couldn’t tell the chief where the guy lived either.

Dickey confirmed that Duncan in fact had a pipe bomb that was wired and ready to go, all it needed was the powder inside of it. 

The report said on Dec. 27 Dickey spoke with an individual with the VA who said Duncan made a phone call to their crisis center making threats of harming his neighbors. Duncan told the crisis center that he was fed up and was going to back to "his old ways."

Duncan also said he was going to take his four-wheel drive truck, a gas can and his neighbor out into the woods and kill the neighbor. Dickey noted that the Farmington VA Clinic wanted law enforcement to get Duncan into a mental health facility. Duncan was placed in a mental health facility two weeks prior to this incident and was there for five days.

The report said the sergeant confiscated a handgun from Duncan’s house and it was also placed into evidence. Duncan also has an order of protection against him and several officers from the department assisted in taking Duncan into custody.

Dickey reported that when they went to Duncan’s house, he answered the door and came with them peacefully. Once they arrived at the St. Francois County Jail, Dickey asked if he could search Duncan’s home and he was hesitant at first, but then agreed. When officers went inside Duncan’s home they found electric wire wrapped up in the cabinet by the stove.

They also found three different AR-15 magazines on a table in the bedroom and one magazine filled with military grade 556 ammo on the couch. Duncan also had a black sword on the couch. When officers went in Duncan’s bedroom they found a cigarette pack with a plastic baggie inside containing meth.

Duncan was being held in the St. Francois County Jail on a $25,000 cash-only bond.