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Public safety committee considering new Hawkins Co. emergency communication equipment after major malfunctions

“There’s no spares left,” EMA Director Jamie Miller said at the Jan. 8 public safety committee meeting. “As far as a time-pressing issue, we’re there.”

As Miller explained, Hawkins Co.’s radio communication equipment, which is used by law enforcement, EMS and fire departments within the county, has been malfunctioning off and on since the beginning of November and has been completely offline since Dec. 18.

Thus, the committee asked Miller and Hawkins Co. Mayor Jim Lee to form a task force to decide between two potential options for new communication equipment.

“I was tasked from day one with trying to improve our communications in this county,” Miller told the committee. “We obviously hadn’t planned for this outage and had hoped what we had would sustain us until we could get some funding. Our current radio situation endangers the safety of every emergency responder in the county due to responders not being able to hear each other.”

Emergency communications in Hawkins County

Hawkins Co. has three repeaters throughout the county, which are placed on mountain tops to repeat the radio signals when line of sight is blocked. These three sites include Short Mountain, Town Knob and Bays Mountain.

Miller explained that, even when radio equipment is functioning properly, the hills, mountains and valleys throughout the county present a challenge for radio coverage. Areas around Clinch and Slate Hill had poor to no service even when the communication was properly functioning.

The county has had three complete outages of the radio communications system since the beginning of November.

The first of these occurred on Nov. 2, and Miller contacted the communications vendor, AMK Services, to see about repairs.

“They’re supposed to have a reasonable response time,” he said. “Eight hours or longer was the estimate I was given. During this event, all of the transmitters locked up. We power cycled it that night at the direct recommendation of the vendor, and, luckily, everything came back online. Luckily, we don’t have everything in this one system. That way, when it failed, we were able to move to channels like the Rescue Squad and Highway Department.”

The event on Dec. 18 happened in much the same way, Miller explained.

“I deactivated the microwave system, just to get some communication into the system, which put us only into Town Knob as the only site during that night,” he said. “On Dec. 20, I ordered AMK to break the system to three sites because that was the only way we could get any communication back on those sites. Doing communication that way, the officer or ambulance has to switch repeaters inside their unit on their portables. For communication to effectively get to them, whoever is trying to talk to them has to be on the same repeater. It takes a lot of coordination to know which repeater people are on at different locations in the county.”

Then, on Jan. 5, Miller was notified that all of the equipment at the town knob site had stopped working. He was able to disconnect the malfunctioning repeaters and replace them with some spares. Though this equipment is outdated, it is currently functioning.

However, this used the last of the spare link radios in the county.

What’s the problem?

On Dec. 18, the county’s simulcast analog radio system lost a microwave link that links the control point at Short Mountain to Bays Mountain, causing an outage of the common audio between Town Knob and Bays Mountain.

“It caused the system to go into complete failure at that point,” Miller said.

The 900MHz link radio at Bays Mountain is presumed to be bad, but Miller explained that the vendor the county uses “had a hard time determining what was wrong with the system.”

Unfortunately, a new MimoMax link radio would have to be shipped from New Zealand, would take around eight weeks to arrive and would cost around $11,318 without installation costs. For a fee of around $325 per radio, the county also has the option to send the malfunctioning radio back to its manufacturer for diagnostic testing; however, Miller explained that the vendor isn’t sure what the source of the problem is or whether it can be repaired. Should the problem be fixable, the county would then incur the additional cost of the repair.

The county did have a spare 900MHz link radio, but it isn’t functioning either. Miller explained that, when the county’s vendor, AMK Services, looked into the problem, they determined that it was not repaired correctly when returned after being borrowed by the now defunct company Central Communications.

Communication failure causes problems during homicide investigation

“It’s daily that officers are walking on each other,” Miller added. “It’s daily that officers on the upper end are not able to hear officers on the lower end as far as radio traffic.”

HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen went on to explain that he was actually part of around 21 officers working a homicide in the county when one of the radio outages occurred. The team was spread out into nine different parts of the Hawkins County as well as into two other counties.

“They were heavily pursuing a suspect for a very dangerous crime, and we lost complete communication in the area they were in,” Miller said. “It was a dangerous scenario, and I immediately called Tony and said, ‘Use caution—don’t get in a dangerous scenario and not be able to communicate.’”

“Basically, the radios just locked up,” Allen added. “We couldn’t talk to anybody. We actually went into each other’s cell phones trying to get communication that way.”

“There were also two pursuits during this time, and it (the communication system) just stopped, “Sheriff Ronnie Lawson explained. “Not to mention, my officers, as you saw later, ended up catching a murder suspect in Sullivan County. That’s what they were doing that night here in Hawkins County when that happened.”

Comparing two options for new equipment: TACN vs. DMR

Miller has looked into just expanding the communications system the county currently has. However, he explained that this would be quite complicated due to overlapping that can be caused when adding transmitters. Overlapping can cause interference in the radio signals when responders are trying to communicate with one another.

Thus, Miller looked into two other options for communication equipment: Tennessee Advanced Communications Network (TACN) and Digital Mobile Radio (DMR).


The initial cost of the TACN system would be $850,000 for local TACN sites and a new site, as TACN expressed that they would be unable to cover the county without adding more sites than currently exist. Each additional site would cost between $600,000 and $700,000.

For 509 portable radios at a cost of $3,420 apiece and 201 mobile radios at a cost of $3,930 apiece, the county is looking at a total of $2,530,710 for radios.

The total project cost is roughly $3,380,710, but this system comes with a yearly reoccurring cost of $142,000. However, TACN would take care of any software updates and maintenance to repeaters at no cost to the county.

He also noted that the TACN system is 800 MHz, which does not work as well in mountainous areas as some other systems unless you have numerous repeaters. Additionally, if the county only switches certain agencies to the TACN system, it could hurt the interoperability between agencies.


The total cost of switching all equipment at the three repeater sites to DMR equipment would be around $131,228. For 509 portable radios at a cost of $831.15 apiece and 201 mobile radios at a cost of $841.67 apiece including installation, the county would be looking at around $592,231 for radios.

The total project cost would be around $723,459 with an additional yearly maintenance contract cost.

This system would be owned by the county and is expandable up to 15 sites. It also offers cell app services for an additional cost and uses a microwave link loop so that the system will not fail by losing one microwave link.

However, this system does not allow paging over the radio, so paging would have to be app-based with a paging system on repeater lines.

Miller specified that the number of radios included in both cost estimates is, also, an estimate and would need to be adjusted for each department. Neither cost estimate includes 911 dispatch center equipment.


In order to pay for a project of this size, Miller explained that he and Mayor Lee hope to find grant money.

“We’ve discussed emergency grants that may be faster than regular grants,” Miller said. “No grant is a speedy process. But, that funding was being pursued even prior to this outage.”

“I’ve been working since September of last year with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Group in Nashville, and there’s a good possibility we might get a $420,000 grant on this,” Lee added. “There’s no guarantees, but it’s looking pretty good.”

However, if the county wins the grant, Lee added that it could be several months before the county would get the grant money.

In the end, the committee asked Miller and Lee to form a task force to decide between two potential options for new communication equipment, report back to the committee and begin looking into the specifics of a permanent solution.

The public safety committee will meet monthly rather than quarterly until this issue is permanently resolved, and the next meeting is set for Feb. 5.

Somewhere out there: long-lost dog reunited with owner after 12 years apart

A twist of fate straight out of a storybook led a long-lost Schnauzer and his owner back together after 12 years of separation.

“It’s stories like this that make me keep telling people, ‘never stop looking for your lost pet,’” Hawkins Co. Humane Society Manager Sandy Behnke told the Review.

Around 2003, Lorrie Vaughan got a little, grey Schnauzer puppy from a friend who bred dogs. The puppy, which Vaughan named Maximus Achilles, had one very distinguishable quality because he was actually missing half of his left ear.

“Maximus’s mother had a C-section to deliver her puppies,” Behnke explained. “During this surgery, the top of Maximus’s ear got cut off.”

Vaughan’s and her three daughters naturally doted on Maximus. One of her daughters, Jaidynn Johnson, who was only around three years old when Maximus was lost, even called Maximus her dog.

“In all of the old pictures we have of him, he is with Jaidynn,” Vaughan said with a laugh.

Vaughan explained that Maximus was always a “wanderer” who actually escaped a few times.

“Even animal control of Surgoinsville found him once before for me,” she said.

One winter day, Vaughan’s daughters took Maximus outside to play in the snow, and he ran away again; however, his owner didn’t find him quite so easily this time.

“We looked for him continuously,” Vaughan said. “We went to the place where we found him the first time on South Zion Hill Road. I have to drive that road to come to work, so it was a constant glance every time to see if I ever spotted him.”

After years of looking for him, Vaughan naturally began to give up hope.

“Her whole world was her dogs”

Unbeknownst to Vaughan, Maximus had wandered into Rhonda Gillis’s mother’s yard.

“He just happened to show up at her house one day, and she was out on the back porch,” Gillis said. “We didn’t know who he belonged to or if someone had dropped him off. He was covered in the cockleburs that grow out in fields. My mom just took him in, took him to the groomers and got him cleaned up. She couldn’t stand to think that an animal was outside and not getting fed.”

Gillis’s mother already had a Yorkie named Toby, who Maximus began to bond with. Thus, Gillis’s mother kept her new friend and called him Buddy.

“She loved them,” Gillis said. “At that time, my dad was living, and Buddy really became daddy’s dog. He (Buddy) wanted all of the attention because there were two male dogs living in the house. When my dad passed away, it’s like Buddy became mom’s dog then. He was really attached to both of my parents.”

Gillis explained that her mother cared for her dogs as if they were her children, even going as far as to call them her ‘kids.’ She fed them high-quality dog food, regularly took them to the vet and kept them well groomed.

“Her whole world was these two dogs,” Gillis said.

Unfortunately, Gillis’s mother’s health began to decline, and she had to be moved to a nursing home.

Buddy and Toby arrived at the Hawkins Co. Humane Society on Dec. 27, and were taken into Vaughan’s home just over a week later.

“I am so thankful and thrilled that the original owner has come forward and is taking them,” Gillis said.

The reunion

When Buddy and Toby first came to the Humane Society, Behnke expected to have a hard time finding homes for them. She posted their photos online in hopes of finding the perfect owner for the pair. However, Behnke explained that many people don’t want to adopt two dogs at once.

“We knew that they were a bonded pair, and, since they’re both about 16, we wanted them to stay together,” she said. “Everybody wanted either one or the other—a lot of people don’t want to take bonded dogs.”

On Sunday, however, Behnke received an exciting message from Vaughan.

“My daughter actually was the one who drew the dogs to my attention,” Vaughan said. “I had seen the post online, but I had just scrolled past it. I didn’t really put two and two together. The next day, my daughter sends me a picture of the post and asks, ‘what ear was it on Maximus that was cut?’ I told her that it was his left ear. I saw the picture and thought ‘this is him!’”

Vaughan immediately contacted the Humane Society to explain the situation.

“When she sent me the message, I asked, ‘are you serious?’” Behnke said. “I just started crying.”

When Vaughan found out that the two dogs were bonded, she offered to give them both a home.

“When I saw him for the first time, I automatically thought, ‘this is Max,’” Vaughan said. “There’s no doubt.”

As for Gillis, she was just as surprised as Behnke to find out that Maximus’s original owner had been found.

“When I heard that the original owner had come forward, I asked the staff at the Humane Society how in the world she knew that Buddy was her dog,” Gillis explained. “It was the ear! I He was very distinctive, and I had never seen another one like him, either.”

Though both Maximus and Toby have cataracts due to their age and have trouble hearing, they immediately seemed at home around Vaughan and her daughters.

“I never expected him to live to be this old,” Vaughan said. “I’m just so glad to be reunited, and I want to spend the last of his years with him.”

KPD drug busts net more than four pounds of heroin

KINGSPORT — Kingsport Police this week announced three arrests in a major operation involving the seizure of more than four pounds of heroin, numerous other drugs and firearms.

In late 2018, KPD’s Vice and Narcotics Unit began what would be a lengthy investigation into extensive illegal drug trafficking allegedly committed by Tyrone Lamas Hitchcock, 34, also known as “Sticks.”

It was learned that Hitchcock was living in this area under an alias while evading authorities in Michigan, where he was wanted by that state’s Department of Corrections for Absconding While on Parole. This investigation eventually led to two co-conspirators to include Hitchcock’s girlfriend, Rachel J. Bradley, 27, of Kingsport, and another female suspect, Ashley L. Hagood, also of Kingsport.

The findings of this intensive year-long investigation were presented to a Sullivan Co. Grand Jury on December 11, 2019 which returned true bills of indictment resulting in the issuance of subsequent capias arrest warrants on all three suspects for multiple felony charges.

Hitchcock and Bradley were arrested on Dec. 20, 2019. Hagood was served with her warrant while already in law enforcement custody on unrelated charges.

As a result of these arrests, and the service of associated search warrants, over four pounds of heroin with a street value in excess of a half million dollars ($500,000) was seized. Detectives also seized more than 500 pills, approximately $25,000 in cash (believed to be profits from illegal drug transactions), and several firearms.

As of earlier in the week, all three suspects remained confined in the Sullivan Co. Jail in Blountville. Hitchcock and Hagood are being held with no current eligibility for bond, while Bradley is being held in lieu of a $75,000 bond.

“The K.P.D. Vice and Narcotics Unit would like to thank the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Vice and Narcotics Unit and the Office of the Second Judicial District (Sullivan County) Attorney General for their invaluable assistance throughout this investigation,” a spokesperson said.

Hitchcock is charged with:

• Sale and Delivery of Heroin (4 counts);

• Criminal Conspiracy to Possess Heroin for Sale and Delivery; and,

• Also wanted by Michigan Dept. of Corrections for Absconding While on Parole.

Bradley is charged with:

• Sale and Delivery of Heroin (4 counts)

• Criminal Conspiracy to Possess Heroin for Sale and Delivery.

Hagood is charged with:

• Sale and Delivery of Heroin (10 counts);

• Criminal Conspiracy to Possess Heroin for Sale and Delivery;

• Sale and Delivery of Gabapentin;

• Sale and Delivery of Methamphetamine within 1,000 Feet of a School; and,

• Maintaining a Dwelling where Controlled Substances are Used or Sold.

Hawkins County lawyer suspended

ROGERSVILLE — On Jan. 8, 2020, the Supreme Court of Tennessee entered an order suspending Hawkins County lawyer Whitney Suzanne Bailey from the practice of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 12.2, for a period of two years with 45 days active suspension and the remainder on probation, and ordered payment to the Board for all costs in the disciplinary proceeding. During the period of probation, Bailey shall obtain an evaluation with the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program, engage the services of a practice monitor, and successfully complete the Board of Professional Responsibility’s three hour trust accounting workshop.

Bailey admitted to violating the Rules of Professional Conduct in four client matters. In the first complaint, Bailey abandoned her client’s case. In the second complaint, Bailey took no action after being retained to represent the complainant in a divorce action. In the third complaint, Bailey failed to file adoption paperwork for the client and misled the client regarding the status of her case. In the fourth complaint, Bailey was held in contempt of court by the Court of Criminal Appeals based on her ignoring the Court’s prior orders and neglecting cases on appeal.

Bailey admitted her conduct violated the Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Communication), 1.16 (d)(4) and (6) (Declining and Terminating Representation), and 8.4 (d) (misconduct).

Bailey must comply with the requirements of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Sections 28 and 30.4 regarding the obligations and responsibilities of suspended attorneys and the procedure for reinstatement.

Volunteer football coach Pressley resigns

CHURCH HILL – Justin Pressley has announced he is resigning as Volunteer head football coach to take the head coaching position at Carter High School in Knoxville.

“It’s just an opportunity to be close to my family,” Pressley said Thursday morning. “My dad lives nearby and my brother lives in Knoxville. My wife’s family lives close. It’s just a chance for us to be in a place where we can see our family every day if we want to and it’s a good opportunity for us.”

“He had informed me he had been approached by them,” said Volunteer Athletic Director Jim Whalen. “I told him if he thought it was a better fit for his family I would support him. He told me about how much more money they were offering. If you’re looking at $16,000 more per year, I mean it’s just tough to compete with that kind of money.

“His brother lives in Strawberry Plains. His dad lives in Rockwood, so it’s closer to there. His wife is from Cleveland, Tenn., so it gets them an hour and a half closer to her family,” Whalen said.

Pressley is expected to leave within the next two or three weeks. The job vacancy has been posted. Defensive Coordinator Jesse McMillan has been named interim coach.

“We’ve made some internal changes to get over the hump right now,” Whalen said. “We’ve named Jesse McMillan as our interim coach. Jesse was our defensive coordinator and he’s going to be our interim coach. We’re moving one of our coaches into the field house from gym for P.E. to take over in the field house, to keep the weights going, Jeremy Sommers.

“We don’t look to be losing any other coaches. We’ll just have to see where it goes. I expect Jesse to apply and expect a pretty good pull to apply. We’ll post it for about 10 days and see what we get. I don’t want to state a date, I just want to find the right person. Having someone in place in February would be great,” Whalen said.

When schools have such openings, their teaching vacancy is a priority to fill, as well. Since Pressley was a physical education teacher, it will be easier to fill along with the head coaching position.

“His position is going to give us a lot of leeway right now,” Whalen said. “Chemistry or foreign language is a little bit tough to fill. But P.E. gives us a lot of room.”

A Kingston, Tenn. native, Pressley leaves after just two seasons. The Falcons were 0-10 in 2017, the year before Pressley arrived after spending the three previous seasons as head coach at Lindblom Academy in Chicago. Before that, Pressley was at Pearl-Cohn in Nashville for a year, following a few seasons at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro.

Under Pressley, the Falcons went 3-8 in 2018 and 4-6 this season, including victories on the road in their last two games: 40-28 at Unicoi and 35-12 at Cocke County. Pressley’s fast-break offense, aggressive defense and positive attitude appealed to Falcon players.

“We talked about next year,” Whalen said. “We felt like it was going to be our year. With the group of kids that he’s had, the third year was going to be the year that we were looking at really trying to get over the hump.

“I said, ‘Give us one more year and you’re going to get a lot bigger schools.’ I understand what we’re dealing with our pay and wanting to move up. He just thought that this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up and didn’t think it would be there next year,” Whalen said.

“He’s leaving on good terms with us. He and I are friends. It’s just tough. I hate it for the kids. He’s a very likable coach. Kids get along with him. They like him and they liked his up-tempo style, trying to play fast. It was new for us and exciting for the kids,” Whalen said.

Pressley said he enjoyed his two seasons in Church Hill.

“My time has been amazing here at Volunteer,” Pressley said. “The kids are committed and we’ve worked really hard to build something that was special. I’m very thankful for Jim Whalen for giving me the opportunity to be here. He brought me back to Tennessee and I’ve grateful for that. The administration has been amazing to me in this process.

“The kids are very important to me. They’re going to hold a special place in my heart and my family’s heart for a long time. We’ve loved our time here. The timing was just right to leave. They’re going to be good in the future. We’ve done something special the past two years. They’ve got great coaches on the staff right now. The future of Volunteer High School is going to go on and get better,” Pressley said.

Pressley was asked about the challenge of coaching football at Volunteer.

“It’s just building excitement and we did that,” Pressley said. “We had no problem getting the community excited. We had two exciting years. We brought in a different, fast-paced offense that got everybody excited.

“Anybody who looks at this job now and wants this job now, I think it’s going to be a very attractive position. Because we were very young for two years – we started sophomores and freshmen for both my years here – now those guys are going to be juniors and seniors. I look at them to be sustainably successful,” Pressley said.

“The challenges coming in was just trying to build excitement and that didn’t take very long. They were hungry to be excited about something. We did that. Everyone’s been great in the process,” Pressley said.

While Pressley is looking forward to his next challenge, he has well-wishes for those he’s leaving behind.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to be close to family,” Pressley said. “I’m very grateful for the kids and I just want to make sure the kids are done right and make sure they continue their success and they will. They’ve got great kids here and they’re going to be successful in anything they do.”

Bulls Gap’s Bryce Elliott (11) draws a charge from RCS’s Cade Lafollette.