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More winter weather headed our way

JONESBORO — Utility officials felt a sense of relief following ice and sleet Thursday, while road crews worked to clear streets and highways.

The National Weather Service predicts bitter cold temperatures and more winter precipitation for the next week as several weather systems enter the area, “some of which could be significant,” according to the Memphis office. Wind chills Sunday and Monday are forecast to fall below zero north of Interstate 40.

Forecasters said there is a chance of freezing rain today and Saturday.

By mid-Thursday afternoon Jonesboro’s 911 dispatchers handled five calls of traffic accidents with injuries, 46 calls for other traffic accidents and 17 calls for cars in ditches as a result of the slick roads throughout Craighead County, said Jeff Presley, E911 director.

Only four homes were affected by power outages inside Jonesboro, City Water and Light spokesman Kevan Inboden said Thursday afternoon.

Craighead Electric Cooperative, which serves a large portion of Northeast Arkansas, also escaped with few outages.

A broken power pole in the Weona community east of Harrisburg off of Arkansas 14 affected 106 members, said Monty Williams, Craighead Electric spokesman. However, that outage lasted only about an hour as linemen replaced the pole.

One outage, southwest of Trumann, was caused, not by weather, but by a weather balloon, Williams said. The balloon became entangled in some lines on Maple Grove Lane, he said.

At Entergy, only 840 of about 5,000 outages statewide remained without power by nightfall Thursday, said Michael Considine, vice president of customer service.

“We had more sleet and less freezing rain than anticipated, so we had fewer outages than we planned for,” Considine said, “which is always a good thing. We know that the loss of power disrupts our customers’ lives, and we will continue working until all customers have been restored.

“We are looking ahead and planning for sub-freezing temperatures and the possibility of snow and more freezing rain Sunday evening and overnight into Monday,” he continued.

In a news release, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver encourages residents to remain vigilant in preparations for unyielding frigid temperatures.

Barring unexpected precipitation, city offices will be open for business at 10 a.m. today, as are Craighead County offices. JET bus service and sanitation routes also plan to run.

Garbage pickup will resume, depending on whether Legacy Landfill is open. If the landfill is open, Thursday’s regular trash and recycling routes will be run today, and Friday’s regular routes will be picked up Saturday.

As temperatures will only grow colder through the weekend, Copenhaver expressed the need for residents to continue to stay warm and safe, and travel only when necessary.

“Between our Streets Department and ArDOT, we have cleaned a lot of miles of streets and highways,” Copenhaver said. “But don’t let down your guard just because a street looks clear. Ice remains out there, and the most dangerous ice is the ice you don’t see. Drive slow and keep distance from other vehicles.”

Fire Chief Kevin Miller said it will be a while before roads become easier to travel, but he was encouraged by motorists’ response to the sleet covering streets around Jonesboro Thursday morning.

“The caution shown by our motorists has so far resulted in fewer calls than we anticipated,” Miller said. “We don’t expect more precipitation until Monday, but the weekend could still be dangerous because of the severe temperatures.”

Copenhaver checked on staff and those staying at the Salvation Army on Thursday, and he thanked all for working together to make the experience both warm and friendly. So far, the Salvation Army has not seen a need that exceeds capacity, but the city is working with public and private partners to provide more overnight space if necessary.

City recreation centers continue to serve as warming centers.

Larry Friar clears a thick coat of ice from his driveway Thursday on Bridge Street. Friar said he was making sure it would be safe for his mother to get in and out of her vehicle without slipping and falling. About an inch of sleet fell early Thursday morning in Jonesboro, making roadways treacherous for motorists.

Breah Bowman and Carrington Reid sled down the ice-covered hills of the 18th hole at Sage Meadows on Thursday afternoon. Youngsters of all ages bundled up and brought out their sleds and saucers to take advantage of the icy hillsides on the golf course.

Slip slidin’ away

Supreme Court reverses gun enhancement

LITTLE ROCK — The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed that a Mississippi County man’s murder sentence was illegally enhanced.

Markus Gentry, 31, of Blytheville, was convicted of second-degree murder for the January 2019 death of Lewis Gamble. Gamble, 35, of Jonesboro died during surgery after being shot by Gentry during a dispute about a car accident at his northwest Jonesboro barbershop.

Gentry was sentenced to life imprisonment. A firearm enhancement added 10 years to his sentence.

“I knew I was going to jail because I wasn’t supposed to have a gun,” he testified before a jury last February.

Prosecutors wrote in a report that Gentry “possessed or owned a firearm and has been convicted of a violent felony.”

He challenged the enhancement noting that it was added illegally under a provision that says a person found guilty to “a second or subsequent felony involving the use of a firearm shall be sentenced to a minimum of imprisonment of 10 years in the Division of Correction without eligibility of parole or community correction transfer but subject to reduction by meritorious good-time credit.”

The law prosecutors cited to add the enhancement to Gentry’s life sentence was used incorrectly, justices concluded.

“Gentry’s ten-year sentence under section 16-90-121 is illegal. (It) does not authorize a trial court to sentence a defendant to an additional ten years’ imprisonment; rather, it mandates that a defendant serve a minimum of ten years in prison before becoming eligible for parole,” wrote associate judge Robin Wynne.

Records show that Gentry is serving his sentence in the Arkansas Department of Corrections Varner Supermax facility in Lincoln County.

Murder suspect's bond reduced

JONESBORO — A suspect accused of being involved in a local woman’s murder was granted a bond reduction.

Jonesboro police concluded that Allie Hannah, 22, of Jonesboro, witnessed a residential burglary in October 2020 conducted by Isabelle Hauptman, 20, of Cherokee Village, and two others.

Hauptman, who is described as Hannah’s friend in an incident report, confronted her about what she saw and was fatally shot, according to police reports. More than 12 hours later, a passerby “stumbled across” Hannah’s body in a parking lot in the 600 block of West Cherry Avenue.

In interviews with police following their arrests, Jamal Golatt, 21, of Forrest City, and Kenney Ivory, 24, of Jonesboro, admitted to their involvement in the burglary, theft and Hannah’s murder, the probable cause affidavit states.

Hauptman, Golatt and Ivory were initially jailed on $1 million cash or surety bonds. The female suspect was charged with first-degree murder, residential burglary and theft of a firearm valued at less than $2,500.

Circuit Judge Cindy Thyer approved Wednesday an order to reduce Hauptman’s bond to $250,000 cash or surety.

Thyer considered testimony by the suspect and her mother, as well as money bail rules before granting the request, the order read. Hauptman “suggested her bond should be in the range of $50,000.”

Records show that the judge sided with prosecutors’ assertion that if a reduction is granted that it shouldn’t dip below $250,000. In addition to the bond, Hauptman was ordered to wear an ankle monitor as part of her pre-trial release.

As of Thursday afternoon, she was still being held in the Craighead County Detention Center. Her co-defendants’ $1 million bonds remain, records show.

Virus cases continue decline

JONESBORO — Craighead County showed a continued decline in the number of new coronavirus cases Thursday compared to a week ago.

However, one of the 25 deaths statewide was a Jonesboro-area resident, and another was from Greene County. Craighead had 42 new confirmed or probable cases.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported a total of 1,103 new cases statewide, including 724 that were confirmed through lab testing. Once again, Gov. Asa Hutchinson found the numbers encouraging.

“For the second day in a row, we see a decrease of over 50 percent in new cases from last week,” Hutchinson said in a news release. “Vaccine administration has progressed throughout the state, with an increase of over 94,000 since last week. We must continue doing our part in this fight.”

The top counties for new cases are Pulaski, 178; Benton, 90; Washington, 60; Saline, 57; and Sebastian, 52.

Since the pandemic reached Arkansas in March, at least 311,043 Arkansas residents have become infected by the virus, including 5,199 who died. Active cases dropped by 672 to 13,518 statewide.

Hospitalizations dropped Thursday to 712 statewide, down 23 from Wednesday. Of those 256 were listed in intensive care, which is a reduction of 33; and 117 were on ventilators, 21 fewer than Wednesday.

COVID hospitalizations in Northeast Arkansas declined by one to 79, including 18 who were in ICUs, unchanged from Wednesday. Four patients were on ventilators, one less than Wednesday.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Thursday:

Craighead – 10,955 confirmed (up 35 from Wednesday), 1,607 probable (up 7); 373 active cases (down 17); 155 confirmed deaths, 19 probable.

Greene – 4,551 confirmed (up 11), 1,175 probable (up 6); 194 active (down 16); 60 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

Lawrence – 1,612 confirmed (up 13); 370 probable (up 4); 69 active (up 11); 37 confirmed deaths, 4 probable.

Poinsett – 2,651 confirmed (up 4), 386 probable (down 1); 93 active (up 1); 58 confirmed deaths), 16 probable.

Mississippi – 4,880 confirmed (up 8), 588 probable (up 12); 198 active cases (up 5); 93 confirmed deaths, 18 probable.

Jackson – 2,402 confirmed (up 1), 717 probable (unchanged); 39 active cases (down 11); 21 confirmed deaths, 11 probable.

Randolph – 1,476 confirmed (up 2), 428 probable (up 2); 58 active cases (down 7); 35 confirmed deaths, 14 probable.

Cross – 1,468 confirmed (up 1), 399 probable (unchanged); 46 active cases (down 8); 44 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

Clay – 1,272 confirmed (up 5), 379 probable (unchanged); 591 active cases (down 12); 31 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.