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Mayor, chief react to recent shootings

JONESBORO — The recent wave of gun-related crimes in Jonesboro are related, Mayor Harold Copenhaver and Police Chief Rick Elliott acknowledged Tuesday at a news conference at City Hall.

“The shootings this week involve one group of people trying to settle their disputes with gunplay,” Elliott said. “We know there are witnesses to the crime, although they are reluctant to reveal information out of fear of retaliation. It makes our job harder, but sometimes the only way we can make a case is with forensic evidence.”

As of Monday, there were eight incidents of gun violence in Jonesboro during the past five days.

He said drug dealing and gang affiliation are fueling the shootings. He said about 1,000 youths and young adults are estimated to be involved with these groups.

“We won’t stand by and let drug dealers be in our community without consequences,” Elliott said. “We’re not going to tolerate crime in Jonesboro.”

Elliott and Copenhaver agreed that more resources have been deployed to improve public safety, including adding more surveillance cameras in crime-ridden areas.

“We will continue to invest in public safety and dedicate resources to make arrests and get criminals off the street,” Copenhaver said.

Elliott said after-school programs and getting pastors involved are ways to move youths away from criminal and gang activities.

“The best way to fight crime is to invest in our kids,” he said.

Elliott said a stronger home life is missing with many of the youths.

During the latest shootings, many of the witnesses and victims were 18 and younger, according to police reports.

The number of shooting incidents in Jonesboro are at 67 for 2021, which matches the number for 2019, according to a news release. The number for 2020 were down, likely because of the pandemic, the release said.

Copenhaver said violent crime in Jonesboro hasn’t changed much per-capita.

“That said, if you are a victim of a crime, statistics don’t matter,” he said.

On Monday, police were dispatched to a “shots fired” call from the area around the Southside Softball Complex. A short time later, police were notified that a gunshot victim was admitted to NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Devonte Wesson, 18, of the 3400 block of Preakness Drive, was later transferred to a Memphis hospital, suffering from a gunshot wound to the back of the head, according to the police report.

On Tuesday, Elliott said Wesson’s condition “is not good.”

On Monday night at about 9:15, police were called to East Highland Drive about a residence and vehicles being struck by gunshots. Police found 14 9 mm Luger brand shell casings in the 3800 block of East Highland. They recovered bullets from an apartment and two vehicles in the area.

No one was injured.

There were seven reports of shots being fired in Jonesboro over the weekend with two people being shot, according to the Jonesboro Police Department.

One incident that isn’t related occurred at 2:42 a.m. Monday, police said Noah Nathaniel Nickerson, 23, of 7812 Stanley Road, called police and told them that he had shot his 54-year-old father, according to the police report.

The father was taken to St. Bernards Medical Center, where he was listed in critical condition on Monday.

Nickerson is being held on suspicion of first-degree battery and a failure to appear warrant.

In other shooting incidents that were related:

Police were dispatched at 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning to the 1600 block of Garland Drive in reference to a shooting.

When police arrived, they found a 17-year-old male with a gunshot wound to the groin area, JPD reported. He was transported to St. Bernards Medical Center’s Emergency Room for treatment.

Several shell casings were located at the scene, police said.

A suspect pulled up to a residence at about 8:49 p.m. Sunday and fired several shots into it in the 1400 block of Smoot Drive. Police said there was damage to the siding and window sills to the residence and that three bullet holes were found.

Police were sent to the 500 block of North Caraway Road at 12:11 a.m. Sunday in response to gunshots being heard. Police found three shell casings outside of an apartment building in the area.

A 36-year-old Jonesboro woman told police at 9:13 a.m. Sunday that three males shot at her residence in the 4000 block of Griggs Avenue. Police found shell casings at the scene but no damage. This comes just days after a shooting was under investigation in the same area on Monday, police said in their report. The three suspects were listed as three males, 18 years old, 17 years old and 16 years old.

A 36-year-old Jonesboro man reported Friday night that five or six gunshot were fired in the 600 block of Oak Street.

A 38-year-old Jonesboro woman reported that someone fired several shots into her vehicle Friday afternoon in the 3200 block of Kingsbury Street. Police reported that the back window of her Chevrolet Malibu was completely shattered.

New store, new energy for Gearhead

JONESBORO — Retail at Highland Drive and Caraway Road is coming back to life. But it’s taken longer than expected.

In fact, Ted Herget, owner of the new Gearhead Outfitters, which opened a few days ago, had thought it would open in April. Renovations to the former Sears building still aren’t complete, and not everything Herget plans to have in his 16,000-square-foot store has arrived, but most of his clothing inventory has been on hand for months.

This is the largest retail outlet in the Jonesboro-based chain of stores scattered over four states.

“We’re going to test the waters on a new concept,” Herget said of the store. “Our brands are fired up.”

The Main Street Gearhead will remain open, he said.

Part of the plan for the new store is to bring back some of the old retail tricks from retail’s past.

“We’re not in the coffee business, but we’ll have a cafe here,” Herget said. “A candy store, hopefully will be open. We’ll be roasting nuts and everything. It kind of goes back to retail back in the ‘50s. I want this store to recreate what our parents and grandparents experienced.”

The new Gearhead location replaces a store that was destroyed March 28, 2020, when a tornado struck The Mall at Turtle Creek. Herget joined Chris Gamble, who also lost a store in the mall, to buy the 82,000-square-foot Sears building.

The Buckle, another former mall tenant, is also expected to open soon. Because of supply chain issues, Gamble Home likely won’t open before mid-February, Herget said.

As proud as he is of his new store, Herget speaks just as proudly of his parking lot, which also is still a work in progress.

“A, it’s prettier, when you come by and you see the trees and the landscape,” Herget said. “And it stops flooding, It’s such a hot topic in Jonesboro. They don’t understand why. But just look around. Look at all the parking lots. All these parking lots are so freaking big. Where does the water go. It goes to your neighbor’s.”

Because the store property is in a relatively low spot, Herget said he gets excited when it rains so he can watch the improvements work. When finished, about 2 acres of concrete will have been removed from the store site, he said.

Herget said he and Gamble learned from the landscaping at established properties in other cities where they have stores, especially in northwest Arkansas.

Last year’s tornado came at about the same time the retail world was put in a tailspin because of the coronavirus pandemic. And that was just a few months after Ted and Amanda Herget had bought 13 stores in Tennessee, Illinois and Wisconsin.

“We went from 300 employees to 25,” Herget said of the pandemic shutdown. “I think I worked 360-something days last year, and I didn’t think there was any way out it.”

Herget said the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) literally saved the business. While the company only has about half as many employees as it once did, and fewer stores, Herget said everyone has learned to work more intelligently.

Six stores in the Chicago area were closed after leases expired.

In recent months, Gearhead has opened stores in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo.

After all the adjustments, Herget said things are looking up at Gearhead.

“We’re coming out of what will be our strongest year, which just blows my mind,” Herget said.

Though his chain of active-life stores has a lot of online customers, Herget insists that the key to success remains with physical stores.

“But you have to give people a reason to come in,” Herget said. “And to me, there’s no fellowship sitting around a computer ordering stuff.”

He noted the savings online shoppers may have experienced in the past are slowly disappearing with the rising cost of getting those products to the home.

“And my thing is, if you support schools, if you support your police and your fire and the city parks and all the programs your kids do – spend your money in the town you live in,” Herget said. “It’s that simple.”

Even if you shop at a national chain store in your community, you’re still shopping local, Herget said.

Register to ring

JONESBORO — It’s that time of year again. Bells are ringing all over town as bell ringers face the cold weather to spread Christmas cheer.

Dominique Sanders, a paid Salvation Army bell ringer, said she has been ringing her bell for 14 years and loves it. She said on Monday that she works every year for the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army has many paid bell ringers; however, the organization is in desperate need of volunteers to ring bells, too.

Capt. Charles Smith, commanding officer at the Salvation Army Jonesboro branch, said on Monday that the local branch will not be doing anything special for Thanksgiving this year.

“We didn’t plan anything special for Thanksgiving,” Smith said, “because we are just too short on volunteers this year and with the First United Methodist’s big community meal at St. Bernards already underway for Thanksgiving, we felt that we had to focus more towards Christmas this year due to that lack of volunteers. We really appreciate our paid bell ringers, but that is all we have so far this year.”

The Salvation Army has to focus on the unmet needs of the community, Smith said, Thanksgiving seems like it will be met.

The Salvation Army serves two meals a day, 365 days a year for anyone in the community. Plus showers, toilets, washing machines and dryers are available for the homeless and needy as well, along with toiletries and washing powder.

“So without volunteers this year it has been really hard because we have ‘Angel Tree’ and other projects underway, too,” he said.

Bell ringers have a long history. In 1891, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee resolved to provide Christmas dinner for the destitute and poverty-stricken in San Fransisco during the holiday season. So, McFee placed a pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He soon had the money to see that the needy people were properly fed at Christmas.

If you would like to volunteer you can go to RegisterToRing.com or email Smith at Teri.Smith@ uss.salvationarmy.org.

Governor: Natural immunity not guaranteed

JONESBORO — Entering the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Gov. Asa Hutchinson warned that the number of people becoming sick because of the coronavirus pandemic is growing.

“Compared with last week, we have over 900 more active cases than the previous week and we have 69 more current hospitalizations than the previous week,” Hutchinson said during his weekly news conference. “That alone should tell you that we’ve got to be very cautious and wise in order not to have the surge that we had last winter.”

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 690 new cases Tuesday, including 23 in Craighead and 11 in Greene County.

The governor also sought to dispel the belief that unvaccinated persons who have previously been infected by the virus provides natural immunity. He said vaccination provides far more protection.

“There is such a thing as natural immunity that you gain if you’ve had COVID,” Hutchinson said. “It is not something that lasts forever. It has an end date, and just like a vaccine, over time loses some of its effectiveness. The natural immunity loses it’s effectiveness more quickly.”

CDC studies of hospitalized show an unvaccinated person with a previous COVID infection is five times more likely to test positive for COVID compared to a vaccinated person, Hutchinson said.

The governor reminded listeners that this time last year was when the deadly surge began.

Affidavit: Girl brought to Jonesboro twice for sex

JONESBORO — Shaun Joseph Thomas traveled to Malden, Mo., twice last week to pick up and bring a 14-year-old girl to Jonesboro for sex, according to a probable cause affidavit by the Jonesboro Police Department.

Thomas, 20, of 310 W. Thomas Green Road, was arrested Friday at his residence after authorities “pinged” the girl’s cell phone and located her whereabouts, according to a Jonesboro police report.

When officers arrived at the scene they were able to get Thomas to come to the door and asked if the girl was there. Officers went inside of the residence and arrested Thomas on suspicion of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, which officers said was in plain view.

Detective Bill Brown with the JPD’s Criminal Investigation Division interviewed Thomas at the Police Department.

Thomas said he met the girl on Nov. 13 on Snapchat. He then admitted to Brown that he traveled to Malden on Nov. 14 and picked up the girl at her residence and brought her back to Jonesboro. He said he and the girl had sex three times at his residence, according to the affidavit.

He took the girl back to Malden that night, he told Brown.

He told Brown he picked the girl up in Malden on Friday and brought her back to Jonesboro. He said he took her out to eat and then to Walmart to buy soap and a toothbrush because she was going to spend the night, the affidavit said.

Thomas told Brown when they returned to his house they laid in bed and engaged in foreplay. That is when the police arrived, the affidavit said.

Malden police Sgt. Troy Karlish said the girl was a habitual runaway.

On Monday, District Judge David Boling found probable cause to charge Thomas with sexual indecency with a child, fourth-degree sexual assault, interference with custody/minor taken out of state, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Boling set bond at $100,000.

Thomas was released from the Craighead County Detention Center later Monday after posting bail.