Last four months of 2017 a busy time
Published 5:00 am Sunday, December 31, 2017
The last four months of 2017 where busy ones for the LOU community. With the city of Oxford and Lafayette County updating their comprehensive plans and working on new zoning laws, the opening of the new Baptist Memorial Hospital and plans for a new parking garage and the construction of new roads, there were plenty of local headlines during September through December.
However, during the hustle and bustle of the last few months, it was the strife of the Ole Miss football program and the NCAA investigation and decision that dominated the headlines in December and was the top story of 2017.
On Dec. 1, after a six-year investigation, the NCAA handed down its verdict and announced the program lacked institutional control and fostered an unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting. The school received three years probation through Nov. 30, 2020, a two-year total bowl ban (one additional year from what has already been self-imposed), vacation of all regular-season and postseason wins in which ineligible student-athletes competed and the NCAA upheld Ole Miss’ scholarship reductions through 2018-2019 that it self-imposed (11 over four years).
Former head football coach Hugh Freeze must serve a two conference-game suspension if he is hired prior to Nov. 30, 2018.
Several other coaches and administrators received show-cause orders in the report, including Barney Farrar (five years) and Chris Kiffin (two years). A show-cause penalty means that any school hoping to hire any of those coaches prior to the order running out will have to present a case to the infractions committee.
The ruling was the final blow to the football program after it took several hits throughout the year, including the resignation of Freeze in July.
But it wasn’t all bad for Ole Miss Rebels.
Before the ruling, Ole Miss announced Matt Luke would remain Head Coach for the Rebels. He was named interim head coach in July after Freeze resigned.
The Rebels ended their season 6-6 after a rocky start and ended the year winning the Egg Bowl against MSU.
Other top stories for the last four months of 2017 included:
— A fire that destroyed the original sanctuary of Yellow Leaf Baptist Church was the top headline on the first day of September. Lightening struck a tree which caught the building, originally built in 1946, on fire. It was used for children’s church services. The attached fellowship hall was also destroyed. No one was injured and the current church building was not damaged.
— On Sept. 11, two men were charged by the Panola County Sheriff’s Department with kidnapping and rape of an Ole Miss student. The victim said she was held against her will by Charles Roger Prince, 34, and Kedrick Kevon Norwood, 28, both from Panola County. The victim and another student left the Square with the two men and drove around for about an hour. The other student got out of the vehicle. The victim remained in the car and was taken to Panola County. The two suspects were out on parole when the alleged kidnapping and rape took place. They are still awaiting trial.
The victim was one of five Ole Miss students to be sexually assaulted during the first semester in 2017. While the incident didn’t occur on campus, four other reported sexual assaults did.
The first assault this semester occurred on Sept. 8 at the Chi Psi fraternity. The second happened six days later on Sept. 14 at Crosby Hall. The third case occurred on Sept. 16 at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house. Nine days later, the fourth sexual assault was reported on Sept. 25 at Brown Hall.
No arrests have been made in those cases.
— The Confederate statue on the Ole Miss campus was damaged after Coty Pierce Lewis drove into the statue on Sept. 16. Lewis was intoxicated when he lost control of his vehicle and rammed into the statue. He was charged with DUI, no driver’s license, no insurance and having an expired tag. The base of the statue and the brass plaque sustained moderate damage.
— On Sept. 24, Steve and Holly Jubera came home after church to discover their two dogs had been excessively sprayed with pepper spray by a U.S. Postal worker who was dropping off packages at their home. The incident was caught on their security camera and reported to the Post Office, which later reported the incident had been investigated and “followed up with appropriate corrective action,” however, did not say if the carrier had been fired. After the EAGLE ran the story on Sept. 26, the Jubera’s story was seen on television talk shows, like CBS’s “The Talk,” and in national newspapers and television news stations like the New York Post and Fox News.
— Oxford residents voted on Sept. 26 to approve a $38 million bond that will allow the Oxford School District to build a new elementary school and make improvements to its existing schools. The bond referendum passed with 83 percent of voters casing in favor of the bond.
— On Sept. 29, Volunteer Oxford announced it would be closing by the end of October after Volunteer Mississippi, the statewide organization that supported the Oxford branch, lost its funding. The Retired Senior Volunteer Program later decided to take over the community projects once run by Volunteer Oxford under a new name, Volunteer Connection. Those events include the Martin Lither King Day of Service and the Sept. 11 Day of Service.
— The University of Mississippi has officially adopted the Landshark as its new mascot, retiring the Rebel Black Bear. Chancellor Dr. Jeff Vitter announced the move in a letter he sent to university stakeholders on Oct. 6. The Landshark is expected to be unveiled before the 2018 season, Dr. Vitter said. Dr. Vitter said in his letter announcing the move that Ole Miss’ athletics department, under the direction of Vice Chancellor for Athletics Ross Bjork, will be charged with designing, developing and launching the new Landshark mascot.
— Visit Oxford, the bureau tasked with increasing tourism in town, was named the 2017 Tourism Office of the Year award at the Mississippi Tourism Association Governor’s Conference this past month.
— While the construction of West Oxford Loop and Sisk Avenue extensions have been discussed for a few years, in October, construction finally began on both roads after the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors approved the bids from road contractors on Oct. 2. The two roads were estimated to cost about $14 million, which included the cost to purchase rights-of-way for roads and engineering costs. The West Oxford Loop Extension will take the road through to College Hill. A second phase planned for the future would connect the road to Old Highway 7, or County Road 101. The Sisk Avenue extension will continue Sisk Avenue from the roundabout near Oxford High School east to Highway 6 across from County Road 406.
— After weeks of speculation and rumors, on Oct. 19, two Water Valley teachers were indicted by a Yalobusha County grand jury for allegedly buying prescription drugs from a 16-year-old Water Valley High School student. Alana Harris and Jill Todd are charged with enticing a minor to commit a felony and taken to the Yalobusha County Detention Center where they were booked and released on their own recognizance. Prosecutors say the controlled substances were a variety of prescription medications, including Lortab and Adderall. The minor has not been charged and is being viewed by the District Attorney’s Office as a victim in the case. Todd works at Davidson Elementary with kindergarten through second-grade students, according to the Water Valley School District website. Harris teaches seventh-grade English during the time of the alleged drug sales. Both are awaiting trial.
— Thacker Mountain Radio Hour celebrated its 20th anniversary on Oct. 19 at The Lyric Oxford. The quintessentially Southern program, which airs each Thursday, has brought in a wide range of devoted listeners for the latest in music and literature in the region for two decades.
‑— When Caterpillar closed its doors at the Oxford plant in 2016, many local residents lost their jobs. However, on Oct. 26, SMW Manufacturing held a ribbon cutting ceremony after moving into the former plant and announced the company had already hired 33 former Caterpillar workers. SMW makes parts for cars, trucks and heavy equipment.
— Oxonian Dwayne Ingraham took home the title of “Best Baker in America” and the $25,000 cash prize in the finale of competition show on the Food Network. The win for Ingraham is his second on the Food Network; the chef previously won “Cutthroat Kitchen” in 2015 as well as making it to the finals of 2016’s “Spring Baking Championship.”
— Oxford and Lafayette County leadership both took steps to help guide the area’s growth. After more than a year of meetings, discussions and review, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors approved the county’s updated Comprehensive Plan Nov. 6. Slaughter and Associates urban planning group has been working on updating the plan for more than a year. A Comprehensive Plan is a guide for current and future supervisors and other county leaders to guide the county’s growth over the next 20 years. The plan discussed the county’s vision in regards to transportation, land use and community facilities including public safety, roads, utilities, house, recreation and economic development.
Later in the month, on Nov. 21, Oxford Board of Aldermen approved updating the city’s zoning code and land use map that completely changes how property around Oxford is zoned. The planning process began in 2014 and started with updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan, dubbed Vision 2037. That plan was adopted last year, and since that time the staff has been working with Orion Consultants to update the Land Development Code and Zoning Map that reflect the policy directions in the Vision 2037 Comprehensive Plan. The new code replaces the current zoning laws, definitions and categories that allow for more mixed-use developments where people can live, work, shop and play without necessarily having to get in a vehicle.
— On Nov. 21, Chad Lamar was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi by Chief U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock. Lamar had been an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District since 1991. The Oxford native earned degrees from Millsaps College, the University of Mississippi School of Law and the Boston University School of Law.
— The Oxford Board of Aldermen approved design plans and cost to park in the proposed downtown parking garage. The garage will cost 50 cents per hour to park. The 92 spaces in the lot surrounding the garage will remain free. The design of the structure pays homage to City Hall and was approved by the Courthouse Square Historic Preservation Commission. Construction on the garage is expected to begin in January.
— On Nov. 25, after five years of planning, Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi opened the doors to its new $300 million hospital. The move took place over a five-hour span that morning with 79 patients being moved from the old facility to the new hospital. In 2012, the heads of BMH-NM started discussions with city and county leaders about the possibility of building a new, regional hospital and buying out of the lease of where the hospital was formerly located. The new facility has expanded its emergency room and outpatient departments have additional surgical suites and operating rooms and an enhanced ICU.
— On Dec. 11, Ole Miss said goodbye to its quarterback, Shea Patterson who announced he was transferring to University of Michigan. On the same day, general counsel Lee Tyner announced he would be resigning his post at the end of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2018. Tyner spearheaded the school’s defense in the NCAA’s long-running investigation into the football program.
— Charter Road Hospitality held a groundbreaking ceremony for its fifth hotel in Oxford on Dec. 12 in which Gov. Phil Bryant attended and thanked CRH for its investment in Oxford and Mississippi. The Tru by Hilton Hotel will be opened in front of the Malco Oxford Commons Cinema and Premier Lanes.
— On Dec. 12, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon, also referred to as SAE, national headquarters closed its chapter at the University of Mississippi due to health-and-safety concerns and members not upholding the fraternity’s national standards for behavior.
— The Oxford Board of Aldermen, at the request of the Oxford Police Department, changed the city’s alcohol ordinance to make the hours bars are allowed to sell alcohol more cohesive. The new hours will go into effect in January. Bars will be able to sell alcohol until 1 a.m., Monday-Saturday and 9 p.m. on Sundays. Previous to the change, bars could sell alcohol to 12 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, 1 a.m. on Thursday and Friday and 12 a.m. on Saturdays, except on home football game weekends and national holidays.