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Driver charged with homicide in Labor Day wreck

The man driving the car involved in the fatal accident of a former Cumberland University football player is in custody on vehicular homicide charges.

The Murfreesboro Police Department Fatal Accident Crash Team investigators announced the arrest of Jamir Johnson, 24, of Perry, Georgia, on Tuesday for his role in the Labor Day weekend incident that claimed the life of Marcus Webb, 22, of Atoka. Webb — who was in the front, passenger seat of the vehicle — played football for the Phoenix from 2018-21.

Johnson, a former Phoenix defensive back, is charged with vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault. Three additional passengers, each with ties to Cumberland football, were in the Dodge Charger when it collided with a tree during the early-morning hours of Sept. 4.

Physicians at Vanderbilt University Medical Center treated Johnson for injuries sustained in the crash and discharged him five days later on Sept. 10.

One passenger, Brandon Pace Jr., of Donelson, remains in critical condition at Vanderbilt. He played for the Phoenix in the Saturday game before the accident later that night.

The other two passengers, Jeremiah Matthews, 20, and Lamar Childress, 22, both of Donelson, are reportedly in stable condition at Ascension St. Thomas Rutherford.

Matthews is a defensive lineman, and Childress is a running back. Both are sophomores.

According to reports, Johnson was driving the Dodge Charger on East Clark Boulevard in Murfreesboro when the vehicle ran off the road and hit a tree.

Information obtained from the Murfreesboro Police Department indicated that speed may have been a “contributing factor” in the accident. Authorities reportedly discovered at least one open bottle of alcohol inside the vehicle.

During the preliminary investigation, multiple witnesses reportedly told law enforcement that the car’s headlights were off at the time of the wreck. However, since then, investigators have confirmed that the headlights were on.

Johnson is held on a $180,000 bond at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center and will appear before a Rutherford County General Sessions Court judge on Oct. 3.

An answer to prayers

The rising cost of homes and rent can take its toll on anyone, especially a single mother of two, but a new Habitat for Humanity home build in Wilson County looks to end that for one local family.

Berut Befikadu is the widowed mother of two children, 7-year-old Berthy and 9-year-old Deangelo Davis, respectively. Her husband, Lee Davis, succumbed to a bout with COVID-19 last year, leaving behind Befikadu and the children.

Since she moved to the United States in December of 2013, she and her family have lived in the same two-bedroom Antioch apartment, where rent continues to increase each year.

Keeping up with rent as a couple was hard enough, but now, doing so on her own was becoming too challenging. She remarked that they could use more space and the stability of a fixed monthly housing cost.

“The rent is very expensive,” Befikadu said. “Having a Habitat home is less stressful.”

Before immigrating to the United States, Befikadu was a nurse in her native Ethiopia.

She is optimistic about the opportunity that home stability will provide her to resume that career as a nurse here in the United States. Once she and her family move into their new home, she plans to take online classes to earn her nursing certification.

However, for now, Befikadu will continue to hold down her job with New Horizons, a job that she has had for the past five years.

New Horizons is a non-profit organization that supports adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities by advocating for their rights and dignity, providing person-centered services and programs, and ensuring their independence through meaningful work, living conditions, and access to the community.

Befikadu currently works as a direct-support professional providing care for clients in the organization’s day program.

“We take them out into the community and help with shopping and other recreational activities,” Befikadu said. “I enjoy my job and get big blessings.”

Habitat for Humanity offers instructional classes for new homeowners to learn financial literacy and money-management techniques, in addition to general maintenance, repair and upkeep of the home.

“The Habitat classes are very good,” Befikadu said. “I am learning a lot about saving money.”

A friend of Befikadu from work recommended that she apply for the Habitat build, although she wasn’t sure she would get it.

“One of my friends is a Habitat homeowner,” Befikadu said. “She has a nice house and a dependable mortgage and encouraged me to apply. I am very grateful and so excited to be in the Habitat program.”

The build represents the 90th construction for the Wilson County Habitat for Humanity. The home is on Green Street in Lebanon, near multiple other Habitat for Humanity projects. It is also the 11th build sponsored by the Dugan Family Foundation, 10 of which have been in Wilson County.

Wilson County Habitat for Humanity community relations manager Veronica Anderson called the Dugan Foundation’s contributions to the local community and affordable homeownership “immeasurable.”

An August spike

During the month of August, the Mid Cumberland and Upper Cumberland regions of Tennessee experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases, which includes rural areas such as Trousdale and Macon Counties, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).

Throughout August, the highest number of reported new cases occurred during the week of the Aug. 14-20, with Aug. 18 being the day that showed the highest numbers in the area.

According to the TDH, from Aug. 7-20, Trousdale County had 66 reported cases of COVID, with Aug. 18 bringing 15 new cases, which is the highest number for that week.

During the same time period, Macon County had 297 new cases of COVID, where 112 were reported on Aug. 18, which was also Macon County’s highest day.

In comparison, larger Wilson County had 892 cases of COVID, with Aug. 18 also being its heaviest day with 213 new cases.

“The numbers were on the rise,” said Trousdale/Wilson County Health Department Director Adalberto Valdez. “I think getting the vaccine and the booster shots has made it so that we don’t get COVID as bad, especially with the elderly and the immunocompromised.”

Since 2020, Tennessee has been keeping track of COVID numbers on the TDH dashboard, which is updated weekly by the state health department.

“The state has a dashboard (to keep up with COVID statistics) that you can go to and check,” said Valdez. “So, they’re keeping up with the numbers via the dashboard. Then, it is up to us (the local health department) to go check the dashboard and look at the numbers. The dashboard is updated every Thursday, but sometimes, the main office downtown takes a little while to update it.”

According to TDH, cases of COVID-19 are reported to the state health department by clinicians and laboratories across Tennessee, as they are required to report known cases within 24 hours.

Although the data is still being compiled by the state on COVID 19 cases, accurate numbers may be harder to obtain as it appears that many people are opting not to test and going directly to self-quarantine as symptoms emerge. Additionally, fewer people are requesting vaccines and test kits.

“We are only doing about eight shots a week now (in Trousdale County) and only handing out about six to seven self-tests a week,” said Valdez. “I think people either have already gotten the vaccine or aren’t really relying on self-test kits anymore. Instead, they just self-quarantine.

“Trousdale County actually has higher numbers of COVID vaccines and self-test kits than Wilson County. I don’t give out that many at the health department in Wilson, but Trousdale gets 1.5 times as many.”

Since early 2020, there have been periodic spikes in COVID cases. One of the worst was in May and June of 2020, when COVID 19 was still a novel virus.

“Two years ago, I started working for the state,” said Valdez. “I was in emergency preparedness. Around May or June (of 2020), the numbers were really high. Then, it kind of dropped off, but then, we saw it spike up again.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), just as with other viruses, COVID can be dangerous, especially to those with chronic health conditions.

“I think COVID can still be equally as dangerous as it was in the beginning, especially to the elderly and the immunocompromised,” said Valdez. “I don’t believe that there is any herd immunity to this. There hasn’t been any positive feedback on this (issue).

“It does seem like the population is now more open to getting a vaccine. I was reading on the coronavirus dashboard that the booster shots are going to help with the new strain of the virus.”

Though data from the TDH dashboard seems to indicate that the number of new COVID cases in the area is beginning to decline, the CDC still strongly recommends following best practices.

As new strains of the coronavirus continue to emerge, the current recommendations from the CDC for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 are to quarantine for a minimum of five days after its onset, and, if needed, continue isolation until any fever is gone for at least 24 hours before returning to regular activities.

Mt. Juliet rejects Tate Lane annexation

The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners unanimously rejected annexation of Tate Lane during its Monday meeting.

The ordinance would have annexed this street from West Division Street to the 90-degree bend at more than five acres.

Last month, the planning commission forwarded a positive recommendation on the annexation to the board of commissioners by a vote of 6-2.

Wilson County, which currently owns Tate Lane, wanted local developers to install a left turn lane for Lynwood, a subdivision located off of Tate Lane, because the county thought that street was lacking a left turn lane.

Mt. Juliet officials said that Lynnwood’s third phase, alongside construction of Hamilton-Denson Park, and the possibility of Victory Baptist Church connecting to the city’s sewers, prompted officials to consider annexing Tate Lane.

However, resident Sharon Nowlin said that the potential annexation would worsen the street’s traffic.

“For the past eight years, there has been little to no coordination between Mt. Juliet and Wilson County on addressing Tate Lane’s traffic issues,” said Nowlin.

Nowlin also said that annexing Tate Lane would cause further confusion for emergency services, because half of the services would still come from Wilson County, with the other half of the services coming from Mt. Juliet.

Nowlin and four other residents voiced their disapproval of the annexation during Monday’s meeting.

Old Hickory resident Bill Ligon said that there is no need to annex Tate Lane.

Ligon, who owns a farm on the north end of Tate Lane, said that the street was cut by the four landowners on Tate Lane’s east side a century ago.

“Prior to this lane being cut, people had to ride across each other’s farm to get to where they wanted to go,” said Ligon.

Ligon said that the annexation would hurt his farm.

He also used Tennessee’s reversal of annexing new territories in 2015 as an example on how consequential the annexation would be for Tate Lane and Ligon’s farm.

“You cannot annex my farm, and I don’t think Miss Tate will give you permission to annex hers,” said Ligon.

Mt. Juliet Vice Mayor Ray Justice said that it is not necessary for the city commission to annex any part of Tate Lane.

Justice added that it would only be beneficial for developments.

He said that Mt. Juliet’s job is to make sure their residents are taken care of, not to find developers for convenience.

District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Milele feels that the timing of annexing Tate Late is wrong and that the annexation would be better if Victory Baptist Church agreed to connect to the city’s sewers.

However, Mt. Juliet Public Works Director Andy Barlow said that the church only wants to connect to the sewers in Hamilton-Denson Park. Barlow added that Victory Baptist Church would pay for the sewer extension to the park.

Milele said that she would support annexing Tate Lane only if it extends to the north of Hamilton-Denson Park.

“If we annex Tate Road that way, it could help us control the traffic there,” said Milele.

Milele said that the city could add additional curbs and signage to the annexation.

WCS selects new chairperson

A narrow vote decided the next chair for the Wilson County School Board.

School board member Jamie Farough, who represents the county’s zone 7, emerged against her colleague Kimberly McGee, who represents zone 6, for the seat by a count of 4-3.

In his last order of business, former board chairperson Larry Tomlinson nominated Farough for the seat. Newly-elected school board member Joseph Padilla nominated McGee.

Farough voted for herself and received her other three votes from Tomlinson and fellow school board members Carrie Pfeiffer and Melissa Lynn.

Newly-elected board member Dr. Beth Meyers joined Padilla in voting for McGee, who also voted for herself.

It was a bittersweet loss for McGee, who subsequently secured the board’s vice chair by a unanimous vote.

The school board dispensed with a ceremonial switching of the guard on Monday night, as Farough remained in her usual seat, where she conducted the remainder of the meeting.

Next, Farough nominated McGee, Tomlinson, and Lynn for the board’s ethics committee.

“I think they are experienced board members, and they each bring a different perspective to that committee,” Farough said. “I think it will be a fair representation.”

Additionally, Farough appointed Padilla and Meyers to positions with the Federal Relations Network and its Tennessee counterpart. Those organizations provide updates on changes to educational laws, policies, and procedures.

“Carrie (Pfieffer) and I were both appointed to those positions as new board members,” Farough said. “As a new board member, it was very helpful to become familiar with those laws.”

Farough is still in her first term on the board, but she indicated on Tuesday that between the tornado, the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued student body growth, she believes that she has received a crash course in what to expect.

“With all that the school board has been through in the past few years, a new director, tornado, COVID, a new chief financial officer, and buying land (for new schools), I feel like we have gotten a lot of experience,” Farough said. “It’s been a very busy term.”

As the chair, Farough will still represent her zone and will work to balance those responsibilities with her new ones.

“It’s important to remember that the board chair doesn’t have any more power outside the boardroom than any other board member,” Farough said. “You have a little more leverage during the meeting because you are running it and maintaining order.”

There are other items the chair will be responsible for, like being on the district’s executive committee.

“There are things outside the board meeting that the board chair does, maybe like a field trip,” Farough said. “It might be a little time sensitive, and we don’t have time to get to the next meeting for permission for that field trip. The executive committee can give approval for that. In those situations, we don’t want those students to miss out because we only have those meetings once a month.”

The executive committee comprises the chairperson and Wilson County Director of Schools Jeff Luttrell.

“The chair works pretty closely with the director of schools,” Farough said. “Mr. Luttrell is good about keeping in touch with each board member individually, and I feel like we have that working relationship.”

The school district faces a host of challenges, but Farough indicated that growth rate and teacher retention rise to the top for her.

“The number of students that we were up this year over last year is 2,200,” Farough said. “Mt. Juliet High School has 1,700 (students). When you think about it that way, it’s more than a high school per year being added at that rate.”

Farough remarked that her newfound role is an important job and one that she does not take lightly.

“I think the board sets the tone for the rest of the district as far as setting an example for students, faculty, and parents,” Farough said.