For the citizen soldiers of the Parkland, 2005 was a busy year. Members of the Missouri Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve from this region fulfilled their commitments at home and abroad.
For the 1140th Combat Engineer Battalion, it was a particularly busy year.
The unit completed one tour in Iraq and returned home to a heroes’ welcome in March only to see scores of soldiers from the battalion returning to do a second hitch in that Middle East conflict.
On top of the combat duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, members of the 1140th also did their part in the relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September. The battalion was activated and deployed to the New Orleans area to help clear the storm ravaged area of debris while at the same time carrying out other humanitarian missions. Their role in the relief effort lasted several weeks.
The 11th Corps Support unit of the U.S. Army Reserve, based in Farmington, was activated in July in preparation for deployment to Iraq. After a farewell ceremony at the Farmington Civic Center, the reservists went to Oklahoma for further preparatory training before being deployed to Iraq.
In addition to the unit call-ups, many individual guard members and reservists from the Parkland also were activated for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. Most were assigned to fill vacancies in other units that were activated for deployment to the Middle East.
Not all of the events of 2005 were as dramatic as the war nor the hurricanes and some of those events brought more pleasant day-to-day living in perspective.
On a much lighter but happier side was the initial season of the Farmington Firebirds in the Kitty League. The team, made up of mostly college players from the immediate area, was guided to an impressive 30-8 championship season by field manager Hal Loughary. At the conclusion of the season, Loughary, who coached the Mineral Area College baseball team for 20 seasons before retiring, announced he was stepping down as field manager for the Firebirds but would remain with the team in charge of player recruitment. It was later announced that David Cramp, former superintendent of the Farmington R-7 School District, will be the new general and field manager for the Firebirds. He coached the Farmington Knights to a state baseball championship more than 20 years ago.
There was a major step forward in community cooperation this year when the Leadington and Park Hills chambers of commerce agreed to combine into one organization. It was realized that the two chambers had basically the same goals and that the goals could be better achieved by working as one organization. In December, the new chamber conducted a Christmas parade with tree lighting ceremonies in both Leadington and downtown Park Hills.
There was a major celebration in Leadwood in October. It marked the 100th anniversary of when the community changed its name from Owl Creek to Leadwood. There was a major weekend observance in the Leadwood City Park to mark the occasion.
Residents of Bismarck continued their efforts to restore the historic railroad depot in that community. They have held several fundraising events and began work on the project. Putting a new roof on the depot located in the heart of the city has been a major project.
The voters of Bismarck also showed their support of the school system by approving a $2 million bond issue in November. The revenue from the bonds will allow construction of a new gymnasium for the school which has all grades, kindergarten through high school, on one campus.
First execution in county
On a more somber note, the first execution to occur in St. Francois County in more than 75 years took place on April 27 at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic Center of the Missouri Department of Corrections in Bonne Terre. Donald Jones, 38, was executed by lethal injection for a murder that had occurred in St. Louis more than 10 years earlier. The Department of Corrections had been carrying out executions at the Potosi Correctional Center since about 1990 but announced in March it would move the procedures to the newer prison at Bonne Terre. The last time an execution was conducted in St. Francois County was a hanging on the courthouse square at Farmington when death sentences were carried out at the county seats where they were imposed.
The police blotter
The saga of Thomas Ingrassia continued as a jury found the St. Louis man guilty of first-degree property damage in connection with his escape from the sexual predators unit at Farmington Correctional Center in 2001. He managed to evade authorities for more than two years before being captured in Florida in 2003. A month after his January trial, Ingrassia was sentenced to seven years in prison.
A week-long manhunt in January for a Butler County man wanted in connection with a murder investigation there was concluded when authorities found him in a Bismarck store. There had been an extensive search for the 29-year-old Charles Langley in Washington and St. Francois counties after there had been reports he was living in the Potosi area.
A Farmington teacher, 24-year-old Bethany Sherrill, was charged with second-degree sodomy for allegedly having sexual relations with a 14-year-old boy. Sherrill resigned from the teaching position two days after a concerned parent notified police of a suspicious telephone message in January.
While a jury found 40-year-old Bryan Dickerson guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder, the Park Hills man eventually got the same sentence, life in prison. Dickerson was found responsible for the death of Frederick “Buddy” Jones of Farmington in an incident at a bar in June of 2003.
A rural Farmington man was charged with second-degree murder and, in the alternative, involuntary manslaughter in connection with death of a Farmington High School student who died of an apparent overdose of drugs.
Those charges were filed against 47-year-old Kenneth Earl Holt in Ste. Genevieve County where the death occurred. Holt has also be charged will distributing a controlled substance near a school in St. Francois County.
Authorities said Holt was an uncle of the student who died in July.
As a jury waited for the selection process to begin at the murder trial of 49-year-old Bruce Wellman in October, a plea agreement was worked out and the rural Farmington man pleaded guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter. Wellman had been charged in connection with the shooting death of 35-year-old John Sumakeris. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Wellman was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
For several days in October, the campuses of the West County School District were under tight security while authorities searched for a young man wanted in connection with a home invasion and double shooting near Frankclay. There was a massive week-long manhunt for 19-year-old Nicholas Thomure who reportedly seriously wounded a man and his wife with a shotgun after breaking into their home. Thomure was arrested at a relative’s home.
Thoughts of horrendous tragedies at other schools across the country came to mind on Oct. 11 when reports came in of a shooting that occurred in a rest room at Farmington High School. Fortunately due to the efficient and brave reaction of school staff and Farmington police, this incident ended without injury to anyone.
A student, 17-year-old Josh Minks, has been charged with felony assault in connection with the incident in which a shotgun was fired into the ceiling of the rest room. He was quickly disarmed by school personnel and taken into custody by Farmington police.
As result of the incident the Farmington School District conducted a series of public meetings and has hired a consultant to recommend what security measures might be implemented at the district’s facilities.
Rebecca Siliven, 26, of Farmington, was indicted on a charge of abuse of a child. She is accused of causing the death of 8-month-old EmmaLee Westhoff by kicking her in the head.
Dr. Russ Deideker, a pathologist at the hospital, performed an autopsy on the baby and discovered a skull fracture. He determined the cause of death was due to impact trauma to the head.
According to police reports, Siliven, who was the roommate of the baby’s mother, admitted to striking the baby in the head with the heel of her workboots the night before the baby died.
She reportedly told police the baby was laying on the floor of her bedroom when she kicked her. She said she did it because the infant would not stop crying.
Melisa Wellman, 19, of Park Hills, was indicted on a charge of first-degree assault. She is accused of pushing her 3-year-old daughter down the stairs, causing a skull fracture to her head. According to a probable cause statement, the 3-year-old girl was taken to Parkland Health Center in Farmington after she became sick.
Doctors there discovered the girl had a skull fracture and numerous bruises and transferred her to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis for further treatment.
Staff at the hospital told Park Hills police officers that the injuries were not consistent with the mother’s claim that the girl fell down a flight of stairs.
The girl reportedly told her grandmother that she fell down the stairs and that “mom pushed her.” When questioned by Park Hills Police, Wellman again said the girl fell down the stairs possibly two days prior. She said she couldn’t remember when the girl fell and she denied harming the child.
On Dec. 29, Walter O’Neal Jr. entered Alford pleas to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence before being considered for parole.
O’Neal, 51, of St. Louis, fled from police in a stolen van after robbing the Super 8 Motel in Farmington May 12, 2004. While police were trying to stop him, an officer collided with another vehicle, killing the two women inside and injuring two children.
O’Neal was originally charged with first-degree robbery, tampering with a motor vehicle, resisting arrest and two counts of second-degree murder. He could have been sentenced up to life in prison on the murder charges.