2021 in Review: Murder cases, fatal crashes among most read stories

Published 9:35 am Friday, December 31, 2021

The new year is here before we even knew it. For some, the year 2021 has felt longer than most and it’s easy to forget events in a year that felt like five crammed into one. 

It’s safe to say, 2021 was filled with a lot of tragedy for some and provided closure for others. Along with COVID-19 bringing everything to a standstill, tensions were raised over mask mandates, crime took center stage and the LOU community lost many beloved family members who will not be forgotten. 

What follows are the most-read stories from the past year, as a reminder of what we experienced as a community.

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Former Ole Miss student to plead guilty to murder 

A former Ole Miss student who is facing a capital murder charge for allegedly killing classmate Alexandria “Ally” Kostial is set to accept a change in plea to guilty of murder in the first degree.

Attorney Tony Farese, who represents Brandon Theesfeld, informed the EAGLE of the change in agreement between his client and the State of Mississippi. The hearing is scheduled to take place at the Lafayette County Courthouse..

“We negotiated a plea,” Farese said. “Mr. (Swayze) Alford and I worked really hard on this case and we were able to reach this agreement with the State of Mississippi. The District Attorney’s office has worked diligently in representing the (Kostial family) in this matter, as well.”

Former Ole Miss student pleaded guilty to killing Kostial

Former University of Mississippi student Brandon Theesfeld pleaded guilty to first degree murder and admitted shooting fellow Ole Miss student Alexandria “Ally” Kostial multipe times in July 2019. Theesfeld was facing a capital murder charge, but defense attorney Tony Farese and the State of Mississippi agreed on reducing the charge to murder in the first degree. 

Judge Kelly Luther presided over the change of plea hearing at the Lafayette County Courthouse on Friday and accepted Theesfeld’s plea. The charge of first degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. According to Mississippi law, Theesfeld is eligible to petition for a conditional release at the age of 65 and once he has served 15 years of his sentence.

Oxford Middle School student dies by suicide

Oxford Middle School student Alyssah Rosas died over a weekend and was discovered the morning of April 19. Following the news, the district offered support services for those at OMS and Oxford High School as they came to terms with the loss. A statement from the Rosas family thanked the community for their outpouring of support in the initial wake of Alyssah’s death.

“Thank you to everyone who has reached out and sent their condolences for the unfortunate loss in our family,” the Rosas family statement said. “We appreciate the space and comfort that the Oxford community has provided. Stay kind and don’t forget to tell your loved ones that you love them.”

Two-vehicle wreck at Highway 6 and Buddy East Parkway intersection

A wreck involving two vehicles occurred at the Highway 6 and Buddy East Parkway intersection on the morning of Thursday, March 4.

Around 7:45 a.m., the Oxford Police Department closed off the intersection due to what initial reports stated was a wreck between a Panola County garbage truck and a car.

Other reports suggested the wreck resulted in multiple fatalities and one person being taken to a Memphis hospital via helicopter.

Two killed in fatal wreck on Highway 6, Buddy East

On March 4, the Oxford Police Department was dispatched to a wreck at US 278 (Highway 6) and F.D. “Buddy” East Parkway. Officers arrived on scene with the Oxford Fire Department, Priority Medical and CareMed and began assessing the accident.

The accident involved a Volkswagen Jetta and a Panola County garbage truck and resulted in the deaths of two people. The driver of the Volkswagen who was identified as John Matthew Ellington, 40 of Oxford, was pronounced deceased on the scene. A female juvenile was transported to Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi where she succumbed to her injuries shortly after arriving. A male juvenile, later identified as Lincoln Ellington, was transported to BMH-NM and flown to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, and was placed in critical condition.

Fatal crash on Highway 6 claims third life

A second child died early Friday, nearly 24 hours after a car crash claimed the lives of his father and sister.

Lincoln Ellington was a passenger in a Volkswagen Jetta that collided with a garbage truck early Thursday morning at the intersection of U.S. 278 (Highway 6) and F.D. “Buddy” East Parkway. John Matthew Ellington, 40, died at the scene, and first-grader Evangeline Ellington died shortly afterward at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi. The driver of the 2020 Mack garbage truck was transported to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

“Our hearts hurt for the Ellington family and their friends,” said Oxford police chief Jeff McCutchen in a statement. “When tragedy strikes our community, we all feel its impact. We will be praying for them in the coming days and weeks.”

Oxford First: 18-year-old entering Oxford Mayoral race

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill did not run unopposed in 2021 as she did four years ago.The incumbent’s bid for re-election was challenged by Brandon Pettis, an 18-year-old who is entering the political world for the first time and aiming for the City’s highest office. Pettis said he has witnessed many things throughout his life in Oxford, most he has liked and is wanting to improve upon what Tannehill has accomplished throughout her first term.

The main initiative Pettis said he planned to roll out is “Oxford First,” which would look to secure funds to continue infrastructure projects in Oxford that Tannehill and her administration have been working on. Another aspect of the initiative would work to contribute to local businesses and bring other franchise businesses to Oxford.

Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Mother Goose daycare

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Oxford on Friday against the former Mother Goose Daycare in regards to the death of an infant in its care last year.

The lawsuit was filed with the Lafayette County Circuit Court on behalf of Joe and Jenna Hastings and seeks unspecified punitive damages in the wrongful death of their nine week-old daughter, Brynlee Renae Hastings. The complaint states the infant was left “neglected and untouched” for approximately 35 minutes while swaddled, face-down on the floor of the infant room of Mother Goose daycare on Nov. 17, 2020.

In December 2020, the Oxford Police Department made an arrest in the case and charged Amy Rogers, 23 of Grenada, with culpable negligence manslaughter as a result of the investigation that began on Nov. 17 at Mother Goose of Oxford daycare, located at 415 Galleria Drive in Oxford. The daycare has since closed.

Arrest made in connection with bomb threat at Oxford Walmart

On Jan. 31 at approximately 4 p.m., the Oxford Police Department received a 911 call from Walmart management, stating they had a person inside the store telling customers that he planted a bomb in the store and they should leave before it detonated.

Officers arrived at the scene and were directed to the person, identified as Jordan Montrey Williams, 26 of Oxford, who was trying to leave the store. An arrest was made without further incident.

Williams was formally charged on Tuesday with False Reporting of a Bomb, Explosive, or Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity suspended from Ole Miss campus until 2025

The University Judicial Council has decided to suspend the Lambda Pi chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, Incorporated from the University of Mississippi campus until Jan. 1, 2025.

This decision comes after the fraternity’s hazing violations in the spring 2020 semester. According to UM Strategic Communications Director Lisa Stone, the six-member board found the fraternity responsible for violating the university’s hazing policy and has suspended all fraternity operations.

“Hazing and related behavior that put student health and safety at risk are contrary to the University of Mississippi Creed and will not be tolerated,” said Stone.

Former Ole Miss student convicted of killing UPD officer released from prison

After serving 14 years of a 20-year sentence, Daniel Cummings is no longer in prison.

Cummings was released from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman on Thursday at 10:25 a.m. on unsupervised custody, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The release was part of the Earned Release Supervision Program by MDOC. 

The former University of Mississippi Student pleaded guilty to manslaughter by culpable negligence in 2007 for the Oct. 26, 2006 killing of Robert Langley, a police officer with the University.

Law enforcement releases round-up of suspects

Over a couple months mid-2021, Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department, along with the Oxford Police Department, University of Mississippi Police Department and Lafayette County Metro Narcotics have made several arrests.

The arrests have stemmed from a county-wide warrant round-up involving all agencies as well as individual officers working the streets personally serving warrants. While conducting the round-up, officers recovered several stolen firearms and several different narcotics and got them off the streets.

According to a representative of the LCSD, the departments will continue their efforts in deterring illicit activities inside the Lafayette County, Oxford and University communities.

Former OPD officer takes plea deal for murder of Clayton

The EAGLE has confirmed that former Oxford police officer Matthew Kinne will take a plea deal this week for the murder of Dominique Clayton. The sentencing hearing will take place Friday at the Union County Courthouse in New Albany.

Lafayette County Circuit Clerk Jeff Busby, assistant district attorney Mickey Mallette and attorney Carlos Moore, who represents the Clayton family each confirmed Kinney will take a plea deal of a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Kinne, who was arrested and charged with allegedly murdering Clayton while she slept in her home in 2019, has been awaiting trial for nearly two years.

University of Mississippi reaches settlement agreement with former history professor

A former history professor at the University of Mississippi has reached a settlement agreement with the school in regards to his termination last year.

Dr. Garrett Felber, a tenure-track assistant professor in the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History, was informed last December that his contract would not be renewed and his termination would take effect Dec. 31 of this year. Felber taught at Ole Miss for four years prior to receiving the termination notice.

In a statement by the Mississippi Center for Justice, it claims Felber and the University reached a settlement for a confidential amount that avoids “a lawsuit and the lengthy legal battle that would have ensued.”

Oxford High teacher suspended for boycotting mask mandate

A teacher within the Oxford School District is serving a two-day suspension after taking a stand against the district’s mask requirement issued on Saturday.

Tyler Kuntz, the orchestra teacher at Oxford High School, was suspended two days without pay for “insubordination and failure to abide by a directive” from Oxford High principal Noah Hamilton and OSD superintendent Bradley Roberson.

Later, Roberson reversed the district’s policy on masks and made them mandatory for all OSD students, faculty and staff starting Aug. 2 through Aug. 20 due to the latest surge of COVID-19 cases in Lafayette County.

The reversal came after the OSD Board of Trustees voted 4-1 on July 26 in favor of adopting the district’s Return to Learn plan, which recommended masks but did not require them, even for those not fully-vaccinated.

Lafayette County man arrested and charged with murder

On June 11 at approximately 12:15 p.m., deputies with the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department were dispatched to 204 Spring Lake Cove for a welfare concern.

Upon arrival and and at the completion of an investigation, deputies arrested David Lee Swims, Jr., 41, for murder. The victim was identified as Swims wife, Anteeatta Archie Swims, 36. Dr. Anteeatta Swims was a teacher in the South Panola School District. She was the lead teacher at Batesville Intermediate School for seven years.

“Batesville Intermediate School and South Panola School District grieve the loss of a wonderful teacher and coworker, Dr. Anteeatta Swims,” read a statement from the South Panola School District. “Dr. Swims was an amazing asset to the BIS team who brought a wealth of knowledge to the school. She was a hard worker and dedicated to serving her students. She will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

Swims is currently being held at the Lafayette County Detention Center and was issued a bond of $100,000 by a Lafayette County Justice Court judge.

Abbeville man identified in officer-involved shooting

At approximately 11:29 p.m. on Feb. 8, an officer with the Oxford Police Department attempted a traffic stop on a vehicle. The driver, identified as Clay Tatum, 38 of Abbeville, failed to yield to the officer and a pursuit ensued.

Officers pursued Tatum into the residence, where he then brandished a weapon, pointing it at an officer multiple times.

“After repeated commands to drop the weapon, which he failed to obey, officers opened fire,” said Oxford police chief Jeff McCutchen.

The officers began performing lifesaving measures, including CPR. Additional responding officers assisted in the life saving measures until medical personnel arrived. Tatum was pronounced dead on the scene.

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigations was contacted, as is protocol when an officer-involved shooting occurs, and immediately took over the investigation. McCutchen said all officers involved were wearing body cameras and were activated. All video of the incident has been turned over to MBI.

Lane Kiffin apologizes for ‘popcorn’ comment

Lane Kiffin is known for his clever one-liners in press conferences or quips on Twitter, but there is one comment he now laments saying in hindsight.

During a pregame interview with CBS’ Jamie Erdahl seconds before the opening kickoff, Kiffin capped it by telling the watching audience to “get your popcorn ready” and in one solid motion was seen tossing his headset towards the direction of the cameraman.

Twitter and social media went abuzz immediately after the comments were made by Kiffin.

During Kiffin’s Monday press conference he explained how the whole comment came about and his immediate reaction after saying it.

“As you guys know I tell it like it is, good and bad. That was not premeditated,” Kiffin said of the comment. “Sometimes you get caught up in emotions and I just heard someone yelling in the locker room and someone saying that. I don’t even know why it came out and I actually said to (offensive coordinator Jeff) Lebby, I got the headsets and said, ‘I just said something really stupid. You better score a lot of points.'”

Oxford Waffle House moving from previously planned location

After a year of no news on its progress, Oxford’s Waffle House is still happening, but will now reside in a new location.

During their monthly meeting on Monday, the Oxford Planning Commission approved a variance request and a special exception request, resuming the process of bringing the national diner chain to Oxford.

The Waffle House will now be located at the northwest corner of the roundabout at the Ed Perry Boulevard and Sisk Avenue intersection. Last year, a parking variance, administrative site plan and a one-lot subdivision north of the current location on Ed Perry Boulevard was approved.

In 2019, Waffle House announced its plans to come to Oxford with the hope of the restaurant being constructed within a couple years of the announcement. With the COVID-19 pandemic arriving last year, that put a halt to several new construction projects, including Waffle House.

With the resumption of the project, but in a new location, Real Estate Director Drew Joiner gave an estimate of the “next couple years” for Oxford to be able to enjoy its first Waffle House restaurant. A site plan is still being designed, which requires approval before construction can begin.

Hugh Freeze’s return to Oxford highlights Ole Miss football’s 2021 schedule

Lane Kiffin’s second season at Ole Miss featured unique matchups, including the return of a former Ole Miss coach.

The Rebels released their entire 2021 football schedule and one of the most intriguing matchups on the schedule does not involve another Southeastern Conference team.

The Liberty University Flames came to Oxford on Nov. 6, marking the return of Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss for the first time in more than four years. Freeze abruptly resigned as the Rebels’ head coach in the summer of 2017 following what former athletics director Ross Bjork called a “pattern of personal misconduct” that included calls to an escort service on his school-provided cell phone.

Hired as the Flames’ new head coach in December 2019, Freeze has an 18-6 record in his first two seasons at Liberty. The Flames went 10-1 in 2020 and were ranked for the first time in program history. They defeated No. 9 Coastal Carolina, 37-34, in overtime of the Cure Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 26, 2020.