Five-year-old Summer Wells is still missing two weeks after she left her home in the Beech Creek area.
According to a news release from the Church Hill Rescue Squad, over 120 agencies from Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia are assisting in the search.
Over 3,000 acres have been searched, but the rugged mountain terrain continues to hamper search efforts.
“The terrain and conditions have exhausted crews both mentally and physically,” the release reports. Since June 15 there have been 1,150 searchers on the ground who have logged 13,800 in the effort to find Summer.
“At this time, we are scaling back search operations,” the Church Hill information states. “Search efforts will continue on a more specialized team basis as needed and directed from local, state, and federal agencies. Just because we may not be seen as such a large presence in and throughout the area, rest assured that we have not quit and won’t quit until we find Summer Wells.”
On Saturday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was searching for a pickup truck that had been seen in the area around the time Summer disappeared.
The truck is described as a 1998-2000 maroon or red Toyota Tacoma. It is reported to have a full-bed ladder rack and white buckets in the truck bed.
“We want to stress that this individual is not a suspect, but is a potential witness who may have heard or seen something that may help us in our search for Summer,” TBI said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.
“Tomorrow we expect a large group of responders to be on site at the search,” Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Jamie Miller said Monday. “Please say a special prayer for this mission. This has been a long and exhausting mission for our responders. I am proud of each responder that has assisted and the community that has been supporting them.”
According to a report from the Hawkins County Rescue Squad, “The support that search crews have received from community, Hawkins County, area region, State of Tennessee, and neighboring/other states has been unbelievable and very much appreciated by everyone involved. Many agencies outside of the area have said they have never seen anything like the support that has been received during this incident.”
Summer has blonde hair, blue eyes, stands 3’0″, and weighs approximately 40 pounds. She was reportedly last seen wearing grey pants and a pink shirt and may have been barefoot.
Anyone with information about Summer Wells is asked to contact the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND or the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office at 423-272-7121.
In the recent course of events, due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, there have been few opportunities for public celebrations, or even family gatherings, so it’s appropriate that this year’s Fourth of July celebration has the theme of “Let Freedom Ring!”
As vaccinations have greatly reduced the danger of COVID-19, we can freely celebrate our freedom.
Holiday events begin with a Cruise-In in downtown Rogersville on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be live entertainment and inflatables for kids, and businesses will stay open late.
On Saturday, the “Let Freedom Ring” parade begins at 11 a.m., proceeding from East Rogersville Baptist Church westbound to Armstrong Road. For more information on marching in the parade, see information inside today’s edition of the Rogersville Review.
At 9:30 p.m. the famous Rogersville fireworks show will be held at Rogersville City Park. Spectators are invited to bring a picnic dinner (no alcohol allowed) and although leashed pets are allowed, please be aware that most animals are terrorized by fireworks.
On Monday, July 5, the Monday Music in the Park series returns for the second show of the year at Crockett Springs Park on beginning at 5 p.m. Host band String Break will open the show. They are a singer/songwriter/classic rock duo from Rogersville. Traci Cochran, a versatile bluesy vocalist from New Market, will play in the evening’s second slot. Neon Remedy, a rock/country band from Rogersville, is the featured act and will take the stage around 7 p.m.
Monday Music in the Park is held in conjunction with the Rogersville Heritage Association. Admission is free, bring your lawn chairs.
Sponsors of the Fourth of July celebration, as of June 23, include Professional Personnel Services / Luttrell Staffing, Rogersville Chevrolet, attorney Crystal Jessee, East Tennessee Iron & Metal, State Representative Gary Hicks, K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., WRGS, ABB — Dodge Employee Association, Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union, East Tennessee Pest Control, First Horizon Bank, Hartness Insurance Agency, Hutchinson Sealing Systems, Inc., Rural Health Services Consortium (Rogersville Medical Complex), Tennessee Valley Authority, John Sevier Combined Cycle Plant, Tommy Young, Johnson and Johnson Realty, Bednarz Electric, Bob’s Tire Center and Bargain Barn Tires, Jim’s Service Center, U-Save Discount Drugs, Stapleton Law Office, Clayton Homes — Norris II,First Community Bank, Golden Dairy Drive In, Hancock Manor, Rogersville Electric Supply, Inc.,R. Brian Price, CPA, Lakeshore Pools, Main Street Beauty Salon, Clayton Armstrong, Edith Peeples, Joe and Earline Price, Jason Roach, Elva Davis, Broome Funeral Home, Carroll Real Estate, Civis Bank, Drs. Chambers, Chambers & Assoc., Jamie Miller, Henard Lumber Company, State Farm Insurance Agency-Sherry Price, U-Save Discount Drugs, Bill & Ann McMakin, Shirley Price, Joe and Earline Price, Billy & Janice Reeves, Cindy & Stuart Bresee, Commissioners Danny Alvis, Glenda Davis and Syble V Trent, John & Bonnie Henard, Carolynn Elder, Eddie & Kay Elkins, Ronnie Lawson, Dr. Amy Haynes, Sonda Price, Terry Linkous, Lisa Cook, Colonial Mini Storage, Eldridge Auto Sales, Patricia Hurd, Mrs. Joe Fairchild, Phyllis Pack, Rita Nabors, Tom Wilmoth, Donna Sharp, Joel and Phyllis McAdams, Carol Gaines, Lisa Gibbs, Pam Sink, Deborah Werling, Headhunter’s Beauty Salon and Calvin Russell.
At their June 24 meeting, the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen was presented with a settlement offer in a lawsuit involving Steven McLain against the town.
The lawsuit stems from an incident that took place back in 2017 when McLain was employed in the Public Works department as a mechanic and was not yet serving as Alderman.
After only minimal discussion during the meeting, the board declined to approve the $20,000 settlement offer, so the case will proceed to trial.
Alleged unjust termination
The lawsuit stems from an incident that took place in 2017 and alleges that McLain was terminated unjustly.
According to the lawsuit McLain filed through his attorney Daniel Boyd, McLain was employed as both a Public Works employee as well as the Public Works mechanic.
Published news reports from 2015 note that McLain was hired in May of 2014 at $16 per hour and was to split his time between Public Works and working as a mechanic on municipal vehicles. He received a $1 raise after six months of work and another 50 cent raise after a year. Thus, he became the highest paid person in public works at $17.50 per hour in 2015.
McLain is also the son-in-law of former Mayor Larry Frost. In fact, McLain alleges in the lawsuit that he was wrongfully terminated “as retaliation for his relationship with Frost.”
The lawsuit explains that, during the January 2017 BMA meeting, the board began discussing eliminating the mechanic position that McLain held. They also discussed offering McLain a different position in the town since McLain had not become a D.O.T. certified mechanic as the board had voted on.
This matter was then tabled for the February meeting, during which the board voted to eliminate the position of mechanic. McLain, however, was employed as a Public Works employee in addition to the position of mechanic. His position as a Public Works employee was not eliminated.
Additionally, McLain alleges in the lawsuit that he could not have obtained a certification as a D.O.T. mechanic, as no such certification exists. He did obtain a certification as an A.S.E. mechanic, though, as was required and requested by the board.
Published news reports from the time note that then Alderman Paul Hale claimed that he had incorrectly used the term “D.O.T. certified” when he meant “A.S.E. certified.”
McLain filed an appeal letter in March of 2017 to request a hearing on his dismissal, though this request was denied. The lawsuit further alleges that, since the town hired another employee in McLain’s place, this constitutes wrongful discharge.
Other contributing factors
The lawsuit also alleges that there were other contributing factors to McLain’s wrongful termination.
During his employment as mechanic and Public Works employee, McLain allegedly learned of Chris Jones, who was the town Mayor at the time, misappropriating and/or concealing town property relating to a snow plow and related equipment for Jones’ own personal use.
McLain made a report of Jones’ activity to the municipal police department. The lawsuit alleges that this police report was then immediately handed to Jones and then City Manager Gary Lawson.
The Lawsuit alleges that his reporting of Jones’ behavior directly contributed to the BMA decision to eliminate his position as mechanic.
The lawsuit requests $125,000 from the town to represent McLain’s lost wages and benefits as well as granting McLain’s appeal to review his termination and a reinstatement of his employment.
Since this incident, Jones has had other legal troubles and is now a convicted felon.
Jones took an ‘Alford’ plea on two separate cases in May of this year, though he will serve no jail time for either case. He will also still have to pay $571,000 in restitution and damages from a civil judgment.
As part of the first case, the 50-year-old Jones accepted a plea deal on a charge of financial exploitation of an elderly adult, a Class D felony, in exchange for a sentence of two years on supervised probation.
This came after Jones was indicted in February of 2020 on one count of theft over $250,000, a class A felony punishable by up to 25 years. Jones was accused of stealing more than $300,000 from his elderly grandmother’s estate in West Virginia prior to her death in 2016.
In the second case, Jones took an Alford plea on a Class E felony official misconduct in exchange for one year supervised probation. This will be served consecutively to the other two, for a total of three years on supervised probation.
This case stemmed from an incident in June of 2020 when he misused the official Mount Carmel town seal to create a fake eviction notice in an effort to remove his former girlfriend from his residence.
Jones has also already been indicted by a Sullivan County grand jury in June 2020 on one count of felony criminal simulation and two counts of criminal impersonation.
Board declines settlement offer
The board began the June 24 meeting in a closed-door executive session to discuss the $20,000 settlement offer, which was proposed by Mount Carmel’s insurance provider, Public Entity Partners.
Had the board voted to approve that settlement amount, the case would not proceed to trial. Alderman Jim Gilliam suggested that the board table the matter for the July meeting, but Chris Rose, who is representing the town in this case explained that “both counsel think there is a zero chance that this [case] gets continued.”
Mayor Pat Stilwell noted that a trial date for this case has already been set for late July, and the board meeting for that month is only a few days before the trial. In the end, no motions were made to table the matter or to accept the settlement. Thus, the settlement offer failed for lack of a motion.
Both McLain’s counsel Daniel Boyd and the town’s counsel Chris Rose were present at the meeting, but McLain was absent.