YEAR IN REVIEW 2015: July
Sign of support: Directional marker celebrates Phil Campbells
People named Phil Campbell have been coming to the town that bears their name for several years. They have been grand marshals in parades, they have helped in the cleanup effort after the 2011 tornado, and they were featured in an acclaimed documentary by Phil Campbell native Andrew Reed.
If it seems the Phils have become a part of the town’s identity, well, they have. Saturday they added their own mark on the town.
Phil Campbell from Birmingham and Phil Campbell from Tuscaloosa erected a signpost in the town’s Memorial Park. The sign is fitted with mini directional signs that denote the direction and distance Phil and Phyllis Campbells have traveled to “their town.”
Some of the longer distances on the sign include Coffs Harbour in Australia (14,383 kilometers), Nottingham in England (6823 kilometers), Inverary in Scotland (6471 kilometers), London in England (6946 kilometers), Bendigo in Australia (15,380 kilometers), Bowral in Australia (14,778 kilometers) and Glasgow in Scotland (6531 kilometers).
“We are so pleased the Phils keep giving back to our town,” said Rita Barton, head of Parks and Recreation. “They have become like family to us. This sign is a testament to the commitment and ties they have to the town of Phil Campbell.”
Nava pleads guilty to murder
Angel Campos Nava, 39, originally indicted on a capital murder charge in February 2013, pled guilty to murder in court Monday in Russellville.
Nava, who was accused of the murder of longtime girlfriend Lesley Hope Plott, faces life in prison, with possibility of parole. If paroled, Nava – who required interpretation through the course of the proceedings – would likely be deported to Mexico. DA Joey Rushing said the agreement to accept a guilty plea on a lesser charge – murder instead of capital murder – came following a series of conversations with Plott’s family, who ultimately agreed it was the best move. Rushing said the murder charge ensures Nava will spend “an excessive amount of time in jail.”
Plott’s mother, Donna Plott, took the stand following sentencing and addressed Nava through her tears. She asked him, “Why?”
“You hurt her family so bad,” Plott said. “We were there for you when your own family turned their backs on you … This family has suffered so much.
“I have forgiven you. I pray you would forgive yourself and ask God to forgive you,” she finished, sobbing.
Lesley Hope Plott’s sister Selena also had something to say to Nava. “I still don’t know why you did this,” she said. “I forgive you. I forgive you because it’s something I need to do in the process of moving on. But just because I forgive you doesn’t mean I forget.”
County OKs same-sex marriage: Probate judge heeds counsel after SCOTUS rule
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex couples can marry, nationwide, denying states’ ability to ban same-sex marriage.
The 103-page document, including the opinion of the court as well dissenting opinions, was not immediately universally accepted, however. In Franklin County, the probate office delayed giving out marriage licenses at all when the ruling first came down; the same situation was true for other counties in Alabama as well as other states. But legal advice led Probate Judge Barry Moore to affirm that his office is “going to issue licenses for every couple that qualifies under the law,” – same sex couples as well as heterosexual couples.
The Alabama Supreme Court Monday issued an order that has been met with some confusion. It mentions a 25-day period during which a petition can be filed for a rehearing of the case. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been particularly outspoken against same-sex marriage. Gov. Robert Bentley issued the following statement the day the ruling was announced. “I have always believed in the Biblical definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman,” Bentley said. “That definition has been deeply rooted in our society for thousands of years. Regardless of today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, I still believe in a one man and one woman definition of marriage.”
Although same-sex marriage has been a divisive, hot topic nationwide, Moore said it is perhaps not as prevalent of an issue in Franklin County. “We haven’t had that many (requests),” Moore said. “Since the (February 2015 federal ruling), we’ve had two.” Moore said of those two, one couple filled out an application but never returned to pick up the marriage license. The second couple did pick up the license and were married but not by Moore.
RHS teacher wins national award
Russellville has added another achievement to this summer-to-remember in the national recognition of RHS science teacher Lorraine Perez.
“I was completely shocked when I found out,” Perez said. “I told my husband, ‘You are not going to believe this.’”
Perez was chosen out of more than 50 state nominees as the Alabama winner of the 2015 Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, an honor presented by the National Association of Biology Teachers. Perez, who just completed her 18th year as a teacher, said she was “blown away” when she found out she had been chosen for the OBTA for Alabama. “I never dreamed I would actually get something like that. It’s just a complete and total surprise and honor. I can’t imagine all of the teachers who applied for it.”
Perez, a Russellville native, teaches biology and other science disciplines. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNA and said teaching was always a career goal.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Perez said. “It’s just one of those things where you have to love it to do it because it’s hard – you spend a lot of your extra time, out of the classroom, that you’re not even compensated for. But it’s so rewarding.”
Perez was recognized, along with other state winners, by the NABT during its national convention in Providence, R.I.
Fire destroys Pink Panda
A quick blaze meant a total loss of Rhonda’s Pink Panda Thrift Store, 515 St. Clair St., behind Foodland in Russellville. Firefighters responded to the scene quickly, but Chief Joe Mansell said he knew the situation was dire when he stepped out of his house, nearly two miles away from the business, and could see the smoke.
Russellville Fire Marshal Justin Green said with the intensity of the fire, he doesn’t have a lot of evidence to work with to determine the origin. The investigation is ongoing.
The building was unoccupied when the fire began. Owner Rhonda Fitzgerald was heartbroken when she received the call from her daughter Saturday morning. She said she was “real particular” with her “baby.”
“I cut the breaker off every single day,” Fitzgerald said. “I really really want to know what happened.”
Mansell said they brought on volunteer firefighters and the Tharptown station to help battle the blaze; the extra firefighters allowed them to rotate people in and out more often, limiting the risk of someone being impaired by the hot summer temperatures.
Fitzgerald has operated the Pink Panda since 2008. By the time she reached her business Saturday, there was nothing to do but “sit there and look at it burn.”
“You’re not supposed to question God, and I’m trying not to question God,” Fitzgerald said, her voice breaking. “I feel like I’ve got to rebuild … That’s the only right thing to do.”
Two face attempted murder charges
Two men have been arrested on attempted murder charges following a shooting July 21 in Russellville.
At about 7:30 p.m., a shot was fired on South Washington Street in Russellville. The victim was transported to Huntsville with a gunshot wound to neck/head area.
“We were looking for multiple people involved,” said Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett.
Russellville PD quickly got a warrant for Javorose Monquis Yarbough, 20, East Lawrence Street, who was identified by witnesses at the scene. His parents were also arrested. Hargett said it is suspected they “assisted him in getting out of the area.” They were charged with hindering prosecution.
A second suspect, Everett Shields, 17, East Lawrence Street, was identified Friday. Authorities reported he is the brother of Yarbough. He was taken into custody Friday evening.
“We were able to obtain enough evidence to obtain a warrant” for Shields after speaking with the victim Friday, said Lt. Scotty Lowery. “I was actually able to obtain a phone number for him,” Lowery said. Lowery convinced Shields to turn himself.
Yarbough is currently in jail with on a $250,000 bond. His parents each have a $10,000 bond.
Yarbough was on parole following charges of burglary and larceny in Mississippi, where the family is from.
County, city schools approve free meals
School breakfast and school lunch will no longer be an expense any student has to worry about in the Franklin County or Russellville City school systems. The Community Eligibility Provision program, which was implemented by both county and city schools, allows schools and local education agencies located in low-income areas to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. This eliminates the burden of collecting household applications to determine eligibility for school meal programs, like “free and reduced lunch.”
“I am very excited that the Franklin County Board of Education will be able to provide breakfast and lunch for every child,” said Red Bay High School board member Mike Shewbart. “This will not cost the county board and will not take away from other programs.”
With the CEP program, every student will have access to free, nutritious meals, and parents will no longer be required to fill out a household application to return to the school. This means any student, no matter household income, will be eating free breakfast and lunch at school. No child in the Franklin County school system will go hungry.
Different meal options will continue to be offered, including hot entrée options and grab and go meals featuring sandwiches, chips, fruit and the like.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said RCS nutrition director Elaine Vaughn, who called the program a win-win. “We just felt like we couldn’t not try it.”
Breakfast is served in the classroom at all Franklin County schools. Russellville City Schools offer breakfast in the classroom for elementary schools; a grab-and-go breakfast for middle-schoolers; and breakfast in the cafeteria for high school students.
This program assures that each child will have two meals each school day and does not have a negative impact on the federal money the county receives, such as ERATE or TITLE ONE funding.