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Panel backs flights to Nashville
  • Updated

JONESBORO — Airport commissioners on Tuesday voted continued support for passenger air service provider Air Choice One. And they endorsed the idea of adding flights to Nashville.

The St. Louis-based airline has provided service to Jonesboro since 2012 under federally subsidized Essential Air Service contracts with the U.S. Department of Transportation, with 18 weekly round trips from Jonesboro Municipal Airport to St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

From that major hub, passengers can connect with non-stop flights to 74 destinations in the United States and five foreign countries.

Air Choice One was among four airlines bidding for a new contract, which would begin in early 2022, and requested slightly smaller taxpayer subsidies than the three other companies.

Air Choice One’s proposal for 18 flights to St. Louis would require a $2.173 million subsidy in the first year of the new proposed contract. Option 2, which would provide 12 flights to St. Louis and six flights to Nashville, would require about $35,000 more from taxpayers in the first year.

Under the plan, tickets would cost $33 (nonrefundable) each way for regular passengers and $60 (refundable) for business class.

While the commission’s recommendation isn’t binding, federal officials take community input into consideration.

Both Mayor Harold Copenhaver and Mark Young, president of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, said many in the community have expressed the desire for more options than just St. Louis.

“Dallas and Nashville are the two that I’ve heard most frequently,” Young said.

But Matt Hyneman, chairman of the airport commission, reminded members of the purpose of the EAS program.

“They’re trying to get you in the system so that you have access to get on another airplane to go to bigger places,” Hyneman said. He added that cost-efficiency is the deciding factor, rather than final destination. “Now, if you could accomplish both things at the same time, St. Louis kind of does it.”

Commissioner Brandon Winters proposed the Nashville option.

“I’d like to be able to explore if we have some flexibility,” Winters said.

Airport manager George Jackson said he’s found over the years that any decision regarding passenger service is a gamble, but that Air Choice One’s reliability has been a far more pleasant experience than previous providers.

When the company took over the Essential Air Service contract in 2012 from a company that declared bankruptcy, there were an average of only 17 passengers per month. The average peaked at 990 in July 2019. The numbers plummeted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and the tornado that destroyed much of the airport’s infrastructure in the same year.

Air Choice One had 56 rides in April 2020. March this year, the latest month available statistically, had 521 rides. As of May, the latest information available, the carrier was averaging 14 passengers per day.

2,977 flags were placed at Arkansas State University and one large one for LTC Jerry Dickerson, who was killed at the Pentagon in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He is buried in Jonesboro Memorial Park. Dickerson’s family is from Jonesboro. From left are Will Silas, vice president, and Jamison Key, secretary, of the Turning Point USA.

Flags flying

Alex Tinker, a student from Pocahontas High School, spray paints an automotive part at Black Rock Technical College. He is among a record enrollment of 96 high school juniors and seniors this fall from 12 area schools pursuing certificates in nursing assistant, industrial electricity, welding and auto collision repair. BRTC also has 219 high school students enrolled in concurrent credit courses.

Record enrollment

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Death penalty waived by prosecutor
  • Updated

JONESBORO — The 2nd Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Keith Chrestman waived the death penalty Monday in the capital murder trial of Shawn Gregory Cone.

Cone, 48, of Jonesboro, was arrested by federal authorities on Dec. 9, 2019, in Key West, Fla., in the murder of Alissa Reynolds, 50.

Jury selection began Tuesday, and the trial is slated to begin today at the Craighead County Courthouse with Circuit Judge Randy Philhours presiding.

Cone faces up to life in prison on charges of capital murder, abuse of a corpse, theft of a vehicle valued at greater than $5,000 but less than $25,000, theft of items valued at more than $1,000 but $5,000 or less, theft of credit/debit cards, nonfinancial identity fraud, tampering with physical evidence and fraudulent use of a credit card.

Reynolds was found dead Dec. 8 in her home in the 5000 block of Brac Place. Police responded to the residence after receiving a request for a welfare check.

The victim’s body was recovered from a pile of blankets on the couch and had several stab wounds to the face, hands and arms. She appeared to be deceased for several days, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Detectives with the Jonesboro Police Department determined that Cone murdered Reynolds, cleaned up the scene, disposed of evidence and stole her vehicle, cellphones, credit and debit cards. Cone then flew to Key West from Memphis.

School vaccine campaigns targeting students face blowback

Fearing his parents wouldn’t approve of his decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine but needing their signature, Andrew signed up for the appointment in secret, and then sprang it on them at the last minute.

They said no. Andrew cursed at his mother and father and called them idiots. Andrew’s dad grabbed him by the shirt collar.

“He said, ‘You’re not getting this damn vaccine; you need to lower your voice. Watch your tone when you talk to me.’ It was, it was the first time my dad had ever done something like that – he grabbed my shirt and yelled in my face,” said Andrew, a 17-year-old student in Hoover, Alabama.

In most states, minors need the consent of their parents in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Navigating family politics in cases of differing views has been a challenge for students and organizers of outreach campaigns, who have faced blowback for directly targeting young people.

President Joe Biden has encouraged every school district to promote vaccines, including with on-site clinics, to protect students as they return to school amid a resurgence of the coronavirus. But several governments and school districts have taken more neutral stances in areas where skepticism of the vaccine remains prevalent.

In Tennessee, the health department ended vaccination events and outreach aimed at minors following criticism of advertisements that featured children and included slogans like “Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot.” Republican lawmakers accused the health department of “ peer pressuring ” children to get the vaccine and criticized a top official who sent a memo to vaccine providers explaining that they could legally waive parental consent under Tennessee law.

Nationwide, half of people ages 12-17 have been vaccinated. That age group has been eligible for the Pfizer vaccine since May on an emergency use authorization. Trials are underway for younger children.

Full approval for the drug was granted by federal safety regulators recently for people 16 and older. Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District school board voted to mandate vaccines for students 12 and older.

In Molalla, Oregon, the mayor pressured a high school to cancel a vaccine drive on campus this semester, citing a $50 gift card incentive he equated with bribery. Many who called for an end to the vaccine drive expressed opposition to the vaccines, although Mayor Scott Keyser said he’s not against them.

Misinformation surrounding in-school vaccination efforts has also eroded trust between parents and school districts across the country.

School officials in Kettering, Ohio, received death threats in August after TikTok videos baselessly claimed the suburban Dayton district was vaccinating children without parental consent.

There was no truth to the claims – they came out before the school year began, and spring vaccine clinics required parents to be present – but they caused “huge hysteria” in the community nonetheless, according to Kettering City Schools superintendent Scott Inskeep.

“Our families really are struggling with both information and disinformation,” Inskeep said. “It’s like a match being put to a gasoline fire. When it starts it’s hard to put out.”

In a total of eight states, all in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest, providers can waive parental consent requirements – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, according to a May review by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In some areas, there have been efforts to make it easier for kids to get vaccinated.

State legislators in New York and New Jersey introduced laws that would allow teens to consent to vaccines without parental consent, but they were never passed. D.C. passed its law and is being sued by an anti-vaccine group. In New Mexico, health officials remade consent forms so that parents could sign them and send them with their kids, instead of having to show up in person.

Elsewhere, some officials have tried to give parents more say over vaccinations for teenagers.

In May, officials in two Oregon counties barred health officials from giving vaccines to kids without parental consent.

But the counties backed down after state health officials issued a legal opinion affirming consent rights for children 15 and older. Berschauer continues to advocate against vaccine incentives for teens, calling the programs “peer pressure.”

On paper, Alabama’s law is one of the more liberal, allowing minors like Andrew to get the vaccine on their own. In practice, that’s nearly impossible. The Alabama Department of Public Health requires parental consent as a matter of policy, and so do major pharmacies.

The day after the argument with his parents, Andrew’s father took him to the pharmacy and signed, without saying a word. Andrew’s father confirmed his son’s account but declined to be interviewed. Andrew asked that his last name not be used out of fear of further upsetting his parents.

Key: School virus strategy working

JONESBORO — Local school officials appear to have made the right moves in fighting the spread of coronavirus in the public schools, Johnny Key, state education secretary said Tuesday.

“So, all in all we continue to have a relatively successful school year,” Key said during Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s weekly news conference. “Part of that is because of the local decisions that are being made. The local school leaders, superintendents, local boards, are making good decisions regarding all of the multiple layers of mitigation strategies we have recommended.”

Key said there were 1,300 fewer virus cases in the schools statewide on Monday compared to the previous week.

“So our strategies are working,” Key continued. “I know many districts are at that point where they made decisions and said they were going to come back in 30 days and revisit those decisions. And my message to those superintendents and to those school boards are let’s keep doing what you’ve doing. It is working. And if you keep doing what you’re doing, with the work on getting more students and staff vaccinated when they become eligible, with the masking strategies, with the HVAC strategies – all of those things – layer upon layer of protection to make sure that we are going to have a successful school year.”

Key said active cases are down even as high school football and volleyball is in full swing.

Dr. Jose Romero, state health secretary, said 34.7 percent of students aged 12-18 are now fully vaccinated.

Hutchinson said he was pleased to see the numbers of new cases from the delta variant continuing to decline over the past couple of weeks. He said he couldn’t predict whether there would be a spike as a result of the large crowd in Fayetteville for the Razorbacks’ upset victory over Texas and the celebration that followed.

On Tuesday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 1,544 new cases of COVID-19, but that active cases had declined by 737 statewide to 17,084.

The death toll since March 2020 rose by 36 to 7,334. Two of the deaths were attributed to Craighead County residents and one each to residents of Greene and Mississippi counties.

Greene County, with 50, had the most new cases Tuesday in Northeast Arkansas, folowed by Craighead with 44; Mississippi with 38; Randolph, 21; Poinsett, 18; Lawrence, 14; Clay, 7; Jackson, 5; and Cross, 4.

As of Monday, 50.1 percent of the state’s residents age 12 and above were fully vaccinated. Percentages for Northeast Arkansas counties were: Craighead, 42.5; Greene, 41.5; Lawrence, 42.1; Poinsett, 40; Mississippi 36; Jackson, 36.3; Randolph, 38.5; Cross, 49.1; and Clay, 42.5.