School threats are serious business

By Jill Penley

In the last few weeks, several area schools have been forced to increase security in response to threats made on social media. Most initiated lockdown procedures out of an abundance of caution. Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill, Elizabethton, Happy Valley, and Unaka High School students reported postings warning of potential school violence by classmates.
“Any threat that is made to a school is taken very seriously and is investigated immediately,” said Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Johnson County Director of Schools. “There are certain disciplinary actions that are followed when any threat occurs. The safety of all of our students and staff is always a top priority.”
School administrators and law-enforcement officials say they cannot take any chances. “We have no way of knowing if a threat is genuine until we investigate,” said Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester.
TBI data shows from 2001 to 2017 almost 1,700 Tennessee law enforcement reports involving guns or threats of guns at schools or colleges — nearly once every three days.
America has endured horrific mass shootings involving schools, and in the aftermath of each, has gained useful knowledge. In many instances, perpetrators made statements or threats before carrying out violence, usually via social media. In recent cases in the Tri-Cities, each threat has eventually deemed a hoax; however, widespread panic and misinformation caused anxiety and disrupted classes.
Each threat also originated on Snapchat.
Since the release of the Snapchat in 2011, it has become a worldwide sensation with more than 400 million people using the phone app daily. One of the functions of this popular app is its “disappearing messages.”
When a user sends a private “snap,” which can be either a picture or video message, the window for viewing only lasts one to 10 seconds. Depending on user settings, the transmission of photos and videos will
“disappear” after being viewed by the recipient allowing the posting of items the sender does not wish to post to other platforms like Facebook or Instagram permanently.
Parents need to reiterate threats of violence, especially in involving schools, are not a joking matter, and law enforcement is expected to take them seriously.
It is often discovered that threats posted on social media are made by students
who are simply unhappy, being bullied, or who are seeking attention and have no intention of carrying out violence. School administrators and law enforcement authorities warn this is not the proper method for seeking help.
Ultimately, if charged with making a threat of violence against others on social media, the students and possibly parents can face serious trouble, including steep fines and arrests. Making threats via social media to scare or to cause harm to someone can also land you in jail.

Cleaning up the meth mess

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

If you think Tennessee’s methamphetamine problem doesn’t affect you as a non-user, think again. There are lingering, and sometimes enduring costs, risks, and damages associated with illegal meth production and use.
Federal data suggests tens of thousands of homes in the U.S., have been used for cooking meth over the past decade. About 25 states have laws related to meth cleanup. Some, including Tennessee, place meth homes on quarantine lists, which can be accessed at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) website.
Johnson County currently has 27 properties on the state list, with several dating back to 2010, underscoring the years it can take for some properties to be cleaned, if ever.
Methamphetamine labs contain various chemical, physical, and biological hazards, and some chemicals are incompatible with normal cleaning solutions, which frequently only discovered when an unfavorable reaction has started to occur.
Without proper training and protective equipment, these labs are quite dangerous. For this reason, to make a meth home safe, a TDEC Certified CML, or Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratory, contractor must remove and replace all contaminated materials, from walls to the carpet to air conditioning vents. Next, a certified “industrial hygienist” tests the home to gauge whether it can be occupied or needs more cleaning.
Despite laws requiring landlords to disclose if meth has been manufactured at a property, experts say such disclosures often don’t happen, and many people continue to reside in contaminated homes nationwide.
This process can be time-consuming and expensive, with costs ranging anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000, depending on the home’s size and the amount of contamination. To add to the problem, at about the same time, it became easier for users to make methamphetamine, federal budget cuts made it harder for authorities to dispose of meth labs’ toxic leftovers. Until the budget was cut in 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) assisted Tennessee and other states by footing the bill for lab cleanup through a large grant from the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program. After losing the millions of dollars they once used to clean up the battery acid, starting fluid, anhydrous ammonia, and other hazardous chemicals used in meth’s manufacture, local law enforcement agencies across the country were forced to fund their own lab disposals, draining budgets already strained in most cases.
Innocent citizens including numerous children are exposed to and affected by domestic meth manufacture
In addition to safety issues, methamphetamine production raises serious environmental concerns. The chemicals used in the production process are volatile, and laboratories usually contain a variety of highly flammable toxic chemicals and vapors. For every pound of methamphetamine produced, five to seven pounds of hazardous waste materials result. Toxic waste–dumped onto the ground, into rivers, or placed in containers that will eventually corrode and leak–can contaminate soil, kill vegetation, and poison local water supplies. Farmers could unwittingly use contaminated water to irrigate crops and water livestock. Studies suggest rural areas are more at risk of water contamination than urban areas because municipal water supplies are chemically treated and frequently monitored.
While local law enforcement and community advocacy groups, such as the A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition, have worked tirelessly to bring meth-making numbers down, there is still more that can be done, including being aware of some common ‘telltale’ signs that meth might be cooking near. A landlord, or another property owner, may encounter empty containers and boxes from chemicals. Other clues include stained soil or concrete, as well as dead grass from chemicals being dumped. Large quantities of over-the-counter medications like decongestants, paint thinner, lye, Freon, acetone, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid, and ammonia are sometimes present. Meth lab equipment might include rubber hosing, duct tape, bottles, and other glass containers, pressurized cylinders, camp stove fuel canisters, propane tanks, and respiratory masks.
Residents or neighbors may notice a strong chemical odor and could experience certain health conditions, like skin irritations, headaches, and respiratory problems.
A number of quarantined homes in East Tennessee are never cleaned up, creating an eyesore and spoiling the beauty of the area. Many of these houses sit empty for years – doors ajar and windows broken – in a perpetual state of disrepair, as a constant reminder of the immense danger of manufacturing and using methamphetamine.

New round of phone scams target seniors

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

The phone rings and grandma shuffles across the kitchen. The caller ID reads “Social Security Administration,” so she quickly answers. The caller, an official sounding gentleman, advises grandma there has been some improper or illegal activity with her Social Security number or account and she could face legal action if she doesn’t immediately call a provided phone number to address the issue. Terrified, grandma jots down the number provided and hurriedly makes the call that leads to a drained bank account, numerous credit card accounts opened in her name and, in some cases, financial ruin.
With telemarketing fraud becoming a lucrative business, scammers have branched out to claim they represent every organization they feel will give them a semblance of credibility and the tactics have progressed by utilizing caller ID spoofing, a process of changing the Caller ID to any number other than the actual calling number. This allows the scammers to falsify and disguise the number they’re calling from so they can claim to be from SSA, the IRS, or another government agency or basically any entity to request your information. They might claim that you have won the lottery or become eligible for an investment if you pay an upfront fee. Callers use a variety of false scenarios or threats to obtain personal information or payments, often requested through gift cards or prepaid debit cards.
“This caller-ID spoofing scheme has unfortunately evolved to include the Social Security Advisory Board, but it is the same type of scam, attempting to mislead people by using the trusted name of Social Security,” said Inspector General of Social Security, Gail S. Ennis recently in a press release. “I encourage everyone to alert your family and friends about how common these scams are, and to be very cautious when speaking with unknown callers, even if you recognize the caller ID.”
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that consumers lose more than $40 billion a year to telemarketing fraud alone. And older consumers have become a special target for those offering bogus prizes or selling bogus products and services particularly due to their trusting nature.
“Most seniors grew up in an era when business was done on a handshake,” said Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester, “and unfortunately, criminals play on that trust.” Local law enforcement officials warn residents to exercise caution. In general, no government agency or reputable company will call unexpectedly and request personal information on the phone. A request of advance fees for services in the form of wire transfers or gift cards should cause suspicion.
It is increasingly difficult to spot fraud, but the most important way to avoid becoming a victim is to stay vigilant. Be aware reputable businesses would not randomly call and request personal information, like account numbers, social security numbers, or your date of birth. The best way to handle this type of situation is to hang up immediately. Asking for banking information over the phone or for gift cards as payment are sure signs that it is a scam.
Also, legitimate organizations will never threaten to arrest by any form of communication.
Chances are good that someone you know has been scammed. They may not talk about it, but the statistics do. One of the most important ways to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to pass along information about scams that are making the rounds.
Scams are certainly not limited to telephone calls. A few months ago, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported receiving complaints from people receiving fake letters supposedly from the IRS. In the past, it was made clear to potential victims of IRS scams that the agency will never call or email regarding debt due. Mail was always the primary form of communication. Scammers then began creating and distributing fake mail correspondence. In many cases, real tax information was included in these false letters which makes it appear more legitimate.
The IRS will NEVER threaten to arrest by any form of communication.
An authentic IRS letter will include their toll-
free 800 number. If a phone number is included, don’t call that one. Call IRS at 1-800-829-1040. When using any government website make sure the web address ends in .gov and starts with “https”.
An IRS envelope will include the seal and legitimate letters will include your partial tax ID number.
There will be information on how to make a payment and setup payment options. Payment will ALWAYS be made to U.S. Treasury. If you believe you are a victim of an IRS scam, report it to Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online at

DEA targets methamphetamine in three states with Operation Crystal Mountain

Press Release

LOUISVILLE, KY – The United States Drug Enforcement Administration this week announced the conclusion of Operation Crystal Mountain, a sweeping enforcement action spanning three states. DEA special agents, working closely with their state and local counterparts throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia targeted Mexican drug cartels, drug trafficking organizations and other individuals involved in the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine. More than 800 pounds of methamphetamine were interdicted or seized during the operation.
“Everyone has a right to live in safety. The amount of drugs and weapons we’ve taken off the street with this operation, along with the number of drug dealers that we’ve locked up, represents a small victory in our on-going fight for safer communities for us all,” D. Christopher Evans, Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Louisville Division Office said. “While America’s opioid crisis may dominate headlines, Operation Crystal Mountain should serve as a reminder that methamphetamine is a problem that has never gone away. The dedicated men and women of DEA, working closely with state and local law enforcement, are relentless in their efforts to rid our neighborhoods of dangerous drugs and bring to justice those who distribute them, wherever they may be.”
“The Eastern District of Tennessee continues to support and work with our law enforcement partners to combat the meth scourge in our region,” said U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey. “It is only with our combined efforts that we can effectively fight this menace that continues to destroy the lives and families of our citizens.”
Operation Crystal Mountain is the culmination of several investigations that began earlier this year. Since January, DEA special agents from the Louisville Field Division, with support from state and local law enforcement agencies across the region, have arrested 235 individuals on federal drug-related charges and seized more than $800,000.00 in cash and 52 firearms, as well as significant quantities of heroin, fentanyl, and other drugs. During this same timeframe, DEA assisted its state and local counterparts with the arrest of 140 additional offenders on state-level drug charges.
While the opioid epidemic has ravaged the nation, several large swaths of the U.S. see meth as their primary drug threat. The majority of the methamphetamine in the U.S. is produced in Mexico and trafficked by Mexican DTOs. However, DEA continues to work to disrupt and dismantle all components of both foreign and domestic organizations which produce and traffic methamphetamine.

Mountain City man arrested for growing marijuana


By Tamas Mondovics

Deputies with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office received some information earlier this month about a possible marijuana grow operation at the home of a Mountain City man.
According to the Sheriff report, officers went to the address of 508 Wilcox Rd and spoke with the owner of the property, 65-year-old Zollie Lee Johnson JR. (Junior), who gave permission to search the property.
Upon search, officers located over 80 marijuana plants growing in Mr. Johnson’s garden deputies said, adding that some plants appeared to have already been harvested.
Mr. Johnson was charged/booked and released with manufacturing marijuana.
Local law enforcement officials have been urging residents to be vigilant to avoid illegal activities taking root in a neighborhood.
Growing drugs in a backyard garden or indoor does not mean out of sight, out of mind.
According to experienced law enforcement officers, drug nurseries come in many shapes and forms and can be inside homes of all sizes, putting neighbors in danger by bringing to the community both drug users and drug dealers and all the criminal elements that come with it.
A recent report ranked the state of Florida on top for marijuana grow houses, and that growers are getting smarter about concealing their operations.
But, as the recent local report shows, smaller towns and communities are no exception to the trend.
While growing some plants in the backyard is a no brainer, according to officers, identifying marks of an indoor drug grow house may include the notable increase of electricity as high-wattage light bulbs are needed to help speed up plant cycles and run air conditioning constantly to cool the hot lights.
Other signs of a grow house may include blocked windows, electric power lines that run illegally into the home, or fertilizer being carried into the house without any indication of a garden or flowerbed.
One more factor that seems to stand out is growers owning vicious dogs to protect their crops, which creates a hazardous environment for area residents.
Neighbors or property owners often claiming to have had no idea of drugs being grown in a nearby home, but as it was the case in the recent incident on Wilcox Road in Mountain City, seeing and reporting works.
She Sheriff’s office is encouraging residents to feel free to call law enforcement when they notice suspicious activities.

Tennessee approves new opioids law

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

It has been determined each day in Tennessee, at least three people die from an opioid-related overdose, which is more than the number of daily traffic fatalities. In 2018, Tennessee passed one of the strictest opioid prescribing laws in the country. But some lawmakers say there have been “unintended consequences,” leading to several updates including a new prescribing provision that went into effect statewide on July 1.
“I think the law is clearly working. It’s just working too well as far as limiting the people getting opiates they need,” state Sen. Shane Reeves said while shepherding HB 843/SB 1810 through the legislature.
Former Gov Bill Haslam announced his “TN Together” plan in Jan 2018 for addressing the state’s opioid abuse epidemic with a three-pronged strategy emphasizing prevention, treatment and law enforcement. Medical professionals spent the ensuing days expressing concerns over specific aspects of the law and the practical implications for doctors and patients.
For example, for patients undergoing major surgery, Tennessee capped opioid prescriptions to 20 days. And even then, patients might not be able to fill them all at once, resulting in repeated trips to the pharmacy. And what about sick elderly patients nearing the end of their lives? Does the current law keep them from accessing legitimate, effective pain management?
State lawmakers made the decision to tweak some parts of the 2018 opioid legislation after many physicians and pharmacists addressed the legislature. The Tennessee Medical Association, which represents doctors, also pushed for some changes to the opioid guidelines, which took effect July 1.
The new law bumps the maximum to 30 days for some surgeries and it also better defines exemptions for patients with cancer or those receiving palliative care; however, most opioid prescriptions will continue to be capped at three days — meaning Tennessee still has one of the strictest prescribing laws in the country.
“Many efforts have been made to curtail the massive quantities of prescribed opioids and there has been success in several areas,” said David Reagan, MD, PhD and former Chief Medical Officer for the Tennessee Department of Health, which include decreases in the amount of opioids prescribed, the number of pain clinics, and the number of doctor shoppers. Unfortunately, however, the number of overdose deaths has continued to increase.
Legislation is one avenue in curbing opioid overprescribing and misuse; however, many other governmental, community and faith based groups can also help. Johnson County’s A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition continually works with other agencies and coalitions to better understand and relate new laws.
“Although Legislation does effectively work to combat the opioid crisis there are other ways for our community to work together to curtail the dangers of opioid misuse and overdose,” said Trish Burchette, Executive Director, A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition. “If the entire community works on the issue cohesively I feel we will see a reduction in opioid misuse and overdose death in Tennessee. The issue is bigger than our lawmakers alone can reverse.”
According to Denise Woods, Prevention Specialist, the A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition has several resources available to the community including medication lock boxes which help keep medications secure and safeguard against access and accidents. They also have counting sheets and timer caps help to keep track of medications, environmentally friendly medication deactivation bags, and info on recovery resources. “Anyone looking for ways to play an active part in reversing the opioid crisis can call or stop by our office at 138 East Main St. Mountain City across from Tri-State Co-op,” said Woods.

TBI releases annual School Crime and Domestic Violence studies

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released two new studies today, detailing the volume and nature of crime on school campuses and crime identified as having a domestic violence nexus. Both studies utilize data from the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRS).

Among the findings of
‘School Crime 2018’:
•The overall number of offenses reported as having occurred on a school campus increased 13.9 percent from 2016 to 2018.
•Simple Assault was the most frequently reported offense, at 37.6 percent.
•The month of September had the highest frequency of reported school crimes.
•Females accounted for 53.3 percent of reported victims.

Among the findings of
‘Domestic Violence 2018’:
•A total of 73,568 offenses were reported as domestic-related in 2018, reflecting a decrease of 5.8 percent from 2017 to 2018.
•Of the reported domestic violence offenses, 49,455 of them were reported as Simple Assault.
•Females were three times more likely to be victimized than males, accounting for 71.1 percent of all reported domestic violence victims.
•Domestic violence was reported as a factor in 98 murders in 2018.
“The issue of domestic violence is by no means a novel problem in American society,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “The persistence of domestic violence and the large number of related incidents reported to law enforcement necessitate continued awareness about this issue.”
Both reports are now available for further review and download on the TBI’s website:

Get ready before the summer storm season

By Tamas Mondovics

It’s the summer storm season. Being ready for the next storm is wise, but what can residents do now to minimize damage?
According to a recent report by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, 341 South Patrick Street, Alexandria, VA, some of the very basics in connection with operation equipments can prevent injury and save heartache.
Included on the list of safety tips are such basic suggestions as trimming branches, clearing debris and to put away lawn furniture and toys.
It is encouraged to decide now on what power equipment one may need. It is advised to run and service equipment before a storm and make sure to have appropriate extension cords.
Do I have the right fuel and are batteries charged? Getting fresh gas and charging batteries in advance is a no brainer.
Where is my safety gear? Placing eye protection, sturdy shoes, and work gloves where you can easily find them may be a simple task but is also a great idea.
Do I know how to use my equipment safely? Review manuals and know how to safely operate equipment.
Keeping safety in mind when it comes to operating chainsaws, generators, utility task vehicles and water pumps.
Chainsaws: Stand firmly with your weight on both feet. Hold the chainsaw with both hands. Never over-reach or cut anything over your head. Anticipate kickback.
Generators: Never place a generator inside a home or garage. Place the generator outside and away from windows, doors, and vents. Before refueling, turn the generator off and let it cool down.
Utility task vehicles (UTVs): Keep the vehicle stable and drive safely. Do not turn the vehicle mid-slope or while on a hill.
Water Pumps: Never operate a centrifugal pump without water in the pump casing.
The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, international trade association representing power equipment, small engine, utility vehicle, golf car and personal transport vehicle manufacturers and suppliers provided the above tips.
If you would rather not receive future communications from The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, let us know by clicking here.
The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, 341 South Patrick
Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 United States

TBI releases annual Hate Crime and LEOKA reports

Studies detail increases in Hate Crime, Violence Impacting Law Enforcement Officers

TBI Report

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released two publications earlier this month, detailing the volume and nature of hate crime in Tennessee and violence directed toward the state’s law enforcement officers.

Among the findings
of ‘Tennessee
Hate Crime 2018’:

•Overall, the number of incidents indicated as bias-motivated increased by 1.0 percent.

•Property-crime related offenses accounted for 24.9 percent, with the remainder of bias-motivated crimes being those designated as being ‘Crimes Against Persons.’

•Assault offenses were the most frequently reported bias-motivated offenses in 2018.

•Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry bias was the most frequently reported known bias in 2018 at 55.6 percent, with Anti-Black/African-American comprising 31.6 percent of the total reported number of hate crime.
Among the findings of ‘Law Enforcement
Officers Killed or Assaulted (LEOKA) 2018’:

•In 2018, there were a total of 2,313 LEOKA victims reported across Tennessee.

•The number of reported LEOKA offenses increased by 27.6 percent from 2015 to 2018.

•The most frequently reported offense was Simple Assault, at 55.8 percent.

“I am very proud of the efforts of all participating law enforcement agencies, to provide the data necessary to produce these reports,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “Our combined efforts have resulted in a successful program that continues to give our state helpful insight on the volume and nature of crime.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was born as a result of a highly-publicized murder in Greene County in December of 1949. The heinous crime aroused the emotions of citizens throughout the region. In an address to the Tennessee Press Association in January of 1951, John M. Jones, Sr., publisher of the Greeneville Sun, called for the creation of an unbiased state agency to assist local law enforcement in the investigation of serious crimes.
On March 14, 1951, Governor Gordon Browning signed a bill into law establishing the Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Identification (TBCI) as the “plainclothes” division of the Department of Safety. On March 27, 1980, following a series of legislative hearings, the organization was re-established as an independent agency and renamed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
Since that time, the Bureau has grown significantly, and continues to meet the demands of providing up-to-date investigative, forensic science, and support to Tennessee’s entire criminal justice system. The TBI takes pride in the fact that it has evolved over the years into a respected law enforcement organization with dedicated, professional employees.
Both reports are available for review and download on the TBI’s website:

TDH promotes pool and swimming safety during summer months

By Tamas Mondovics

Memorial Day was, of course, the unofficial start of summer and the official opening day for many public pools. That is good news for young and old planning to spend some time at poolside during the next couple of months.
The season also means its is time to review some important safety tips, which the Tennessee Department of Health was also encouraging all to do during this year’s celebration of Healthy and Safe Swimming Week late last month.
“The best way to prevent illnesses associated with swimming is to keep germs out of our swimming areas,” said TDH Medical Epidemiologist Mary-Margaret Fill, MD. “We can all help do that with simple precautions like not swimming when sick, not swallowing swim water, showering before swimming and following directions for pool chemical use, which also helps prevent chemical injuries.”
Safety topics promoted this year by TDH include preventing chemical injuries, avoiding water illnesses, preventing drowning, keeping pools safe.
Please see each topic addressed below:

Prevent Chemical Injuries
• Read and follow directions on product labels
• Wear appropriate safety equipment such as goggles when handling pool chemicals
• Secure pool chemicals to protect people, particularly young children
• Add chemicals poolside ONLY when directed by product labels and when no one is in the water
• NEVER mix different pool chemicals with each other, particularly chlorine products and acid.

Avoid Water Illnesses
Follow these tips to help prevent water-related illness:
• Don’t swim or let your child swim if sick with diarrhea
• Check the pool’s latest inspection score
• Rinse off in the shower for at least one minute before swimming
• Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers
710 James Robertson Parkway • Andrew Johnson Tower, 5th Floor
Nashville, TN 37243 • Tel: 615-741-3111 •
• Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and/or check diapers often
• Check and change diapers in a bathroom or diaper-changing area, not at poolside
• Don’t swallow the water you swim in
• Read and follow directions for pool chemical use and storage

Prevent Drowning
Follow these tips to help reduce the risk of drowning:
• Make sure everyone knows how to swim
• Use life jackets as directed
• Provide continuous, attentive supervision close to swimmers, even if a lifeguard is present
• Know CPR
• Don’t use alcohol or drugs when swimming or watching swimmers
• Discourage horseplay and stunts
• Prevent access to water when the pool is not in use

TDH Helps Keep Pools Safe
Tennessee Department of Health environmentalists inspect all public pools in the state at least once per month while the pools are in operation. TDH also provides training to pool operators to help ensure compliance with laws and rules for pool
“Our environmental health specialists review plans for new public swimming pools and inspect public pools, spas and splash pads to make sure these areas meet sanitation, disinfection and safety standards,” said TDH Environmental Health Director Lori LeMaster, REHS. “Tennessee swimmers can stay safe and healthy by following posted pool rules, showering before entering a public pool and staying home and out of the water if they’re sick.”
Those with concerns about sanitation of a public pool can contact the local health department and ask for the environmentalist.
For more information about healthy and safe swimming, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming website
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. Learn more about TDH services and programs at

Tennessee Poison Center saves lives, millions of dollars in medical bills

By Tamas Mondovics

There are many heroes that make the difference daily. Some are more visible, while others do much behind the scenes.
One of such entity is the Tennessee Poison Center (TPC), which receives hundreds of calls daily. Its certified physicians, pharmacists, registered nurses, and a board-certified physician toxicologist provide free medical information for
poison emergencies 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
According to TPC in 2018, the Center, housed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, received more than 106,000 calls, including initial cases and follow-up calls, and saved an estimated
$10 million by preventing emergency room visits for the underinsured, thus
saving taxpayers, insurance companies and hospitals money.
TPC officials emphasized that of those calls, 50 percent involved children five years old and younger and approximately 60 percent of exposure calls involved pharmaceuticals. Other common poison exposures included cleaning products and cosmetics.
“Children are naturally curious, and it is so easy to turn your back for a minute with familiar bottles around such as Tylenol or Motrin,” said Donna Seger, MD, executive director of the Tennessee Poison Center. “The staff at the TPC telephone hotline are trained nurses, pharmacists, and physicians who quickly determine whether the dose is non-toxic, and whether the child can stay at
home or needs to be
taken to the emergency department.”
TPC is the only poison center in Tennessee and provides their 24/7 medical hotline to 95 counties and is a member of the Tennessee State Department of Health Commissioner’s Council on Injury Prevention, a group of organizations throughout the state who collaborate to reduce injury deaths in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Poison Center has been a phone call away for more than 30 years and continues to offer its services to more than six million Tennesseans. It is partially funded under a grant
contract with the State of Tennessee.
“The Tennessee Poison Center provides an invaluable service to Tennessee residents that not only saves them time and money from unnecessary trips to the emergency room but saves lives by providing 24-hour access to medical information during a crisis,” Seger said.
In the case of suspecting a poisoning, call Tennessee Poison Center for treatment advice. The Poison Help toll-free number is 1-800-222-1222. All calls are fast, free and confidential.

The Top 10 Counties for Exposures in 2018:
Davidson 12,231
Shelby 11,574
Knox 7,271
Hamilton 5,181
Rutherford 4,107
Montgomery 2,964
Williamson 2,413
Sullivan 2,985
Sumner 2,527
Washington 2,682
Information from the TPC’s 2018 Annual Report

Legislative amendment affects Motorized watercraft renters

TWRA Press Release

NASHVILLE — An amendment passed in the Tennessee General Assembly this year requires persons who rent motorized watercraft be given an orientation for the specific type of vessel being rented.
The renter of the watercraft must sign off in acknowledgement after completion of the orientation. The marina or any other rental entity will keep the acknowledgement on file for at least a 30-day period.
Tennessee residents who have successfully completed a monitored National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) exam and hold the TWRA-issued wallet certification card are exempt from this orientation. Any out of state visitor, who holds a NASBLA-approved boating safety education certification, is also exempt as is any person who holds a United States Coast Guard operator license.
Tennessee residents born after Jan. 1, 1989 are required to pass a boater education exam administered by an approved representative of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in order to operate any motorized vessel over 8.5 horsepower. Out of state residents born after Jan. 1, 1989 must show proof of successful completion of NASBLA
approved boating safety course. Non-resident certification may be from their home state or any state issued course.
Tennessee residents born after the Jan.1, 1989 can purchase a Type 600 Exam Permit online or from any hunting and fishing license vendor for a cost of $10 and go to a testing location to take the exam or take a class. Locations for testing and for classes can be found on the TWRA website under the boating section. For study materials, telephone (615) 781-6682.

Boat registration fees to see first increase in 12 years

Photo By Tamas Mondovics

TWRA Press Release

Tennessee boaters have the month of June to renew their boat registration before the first fee increase in 12 years goes into effect on July 1, pending approval by the Government Operations Committee of the Tennessee General Assembly.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reports there are about 264,000 vessels registered.
Any boating vessel operated by a gas engine, electric motor or sail is required to be registered. The increase is in line with the rise of the
consumer price index since the last fee increase was made.
The current fee for a 16-foot boat and under is $13 for one year, $24 for two, and $35 for three. The new fees will be $15, $28, and $41, respectively. Vessels with a length over 16-feet to 26-feet will increase from $25 to $29 for a year. Those over 26 feet to 40 increases from $38 to $44 and vessels more than 40 feet moves from $51 to $59 for a year.
Boat owners have the option to have their vessels
registered for one, two, or three years. The registration term may not exceed three years and 30 days. Boat owners will not see the increase until their current registration expires.
Those vessels that are powered only by paddle such as canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and rafts are not required to be registered.
Boat registration can be made online at, or on Monday through Friday 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at any TWRA regional office located in Jackson (Region I), Nashville (Region II), Crossville (Region III), and Morristown (Region IV), or by mail.

Fatalities reported at start of summer boating season

A sailboat takes advantage of a breezy day on Watauga Lake earlier this week, while dozens of boats await their captains at the start of the 2019 summer boating season. With boating season in full swing, local agencies are urging boaters to wear life jackets and keep boating safety in the forefront while on the water. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tamas Mondovics

In the wake of the traditional National Safe Boating Week (May 18-24), and Memorial Day Weekend, the 2019 summer boating season is now in full swing.
To educate the public about the importance of safe boating practices and wearing life jackets while on the water, local agencies and law enforcement officials joined forces with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in a weeklong effort urging boaters to put safety first throughout the entire 2019 boating season.
“Safe Boating Week is the perfect opportunity before the first major holiday weekend of the year to remind boaters about safety equipment,” said Betsy Woods, TWRA Boating Education Coordinator. “It is also the time to make maintenance checks and all that is needed so they can have a great time on the water and be safe.”
The effort, of course, is for a good reason. Over the 2018 Memorial Day weekend, there were ten boating under the influence (BUI) arrests. TWRA wildlife officers reported three injury-incidents accident and a pair of property damage incidents.
TWRA has reported that there were no boating-related fatalities over the 2019 Memorial Day holiday weekend, which marks the fifth consecutive year without a boating fatality over the holiday weekend.
Unfortunately, 2019 already had its share of boating accidents resulting in fatalities, including the most recent report of TWRA responding to a call of a boat collision on Thursday, May 30 around 9:45 p.m. The accident reportedly occurred near the Hobson Pike Bridge on Percy Priest Lake. Upon arrival, officers reported two boats and three individuals involved. Two occupants in one of the vessels suffered severe injuries. One individual died at the scene, and the other was taken to Vanderbilt Hospital in critical condition. The operator of the second vessel sustained minor injuries.
Preliminary investigation suggests both boats were under power and moving at the time of the collision although the exact cause of the accident is still under investigation. TWRA investigators impounded both vessels for further analysis.
Officials reported that the fatality is the second boating death of 2019 in Tennessee.
During the period from May 24-27, there were five injury incidents and six property damage incidents. TWRA Region IV in East Tennessee had two of the injury and five property damage incidents.
TWRA Boating and Law Enforcement officers made 21 boating under the influence (BUI) arrests, the most since the same number was reported in 2016 over the holiday weekend. The figure shows an increase from ten in 2018.
TWRA also wants to stress the responsible use of alcohol while boating, as well as to consider the effects of drinking and driving, whether on water or land. In a boat on the water, the effects of alcohol increase because of external stressors such as engine vibration, wave motion, and glare from the sun. Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in Tennessee.
For many residents, the Memorial Day weekend was the first time to have the boat on the water this year.
TWRA officials say taking a few minutes to check some of the boat components may be the key to having a nice, safe outing.
Performing a simple maintenance check before getting on the water may prevent problems. Check hoses to make sure they are in good shape. Make sure the lights work and carry extra fuses and bulbs.

• Have a wearable life jacket for every person onboard
• If your boat is 16 feet or longer, there must be a Type IV throwable device onboard
• Have onboard a working fire extinguisher if you have enclosed fuel compartments or cabins
• Children age 12 and younger must wear a life jacket at all times while the boat is underway – drifting is considered underway
• Any boat operator born after January 1, 1989, must have onboard the TWRA-issued wallet Boating Safety Education Certificate
• Choose a designated boat operator
• Make sure there is a current boat registration
• Maintain a safe speed
• Boating safety courses – log onto for information.

Tenn institutions report decrease in campus crime

Staff Report

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has recently released
its annual ‘Crime on Campus’ publication, detailing the volume and nature
of crime on Tennessee’s college and university campuses.
The report compiles data submitted to TBI through the state’s Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRS).
Among the report’s findings:
•Crime reported by Tennessee colleges and universities decreased 15.5 percent from 2017 to 2018.
•Robbery offenses decreased significantly, by 50 percent, in the same time period.
•The overall category of ‘Sex Offenses – Non-Consensual’ decreased by 17.8 percent in 2018, with reported ‘Rape’ offenses decreasing 10.2 percent.
“This report will hopefully assist law enforcement, institution administrators, and government officials in planning their efforts in the fight against crime and create an awareness that crime exists as a threat in our communities,” said TBI
Director David Rausch. “I wish to express my appreciation to all institutions of higher learning that consistently support a unified crime reporting system in Tennessee.”
In accordance to federal guidelines, the TBI
discourages the use of its crime data to compare one agency to another. It is far more appropriate, in the TBI’s assessment, to compare an agency’s statistics over time.
The full report is available for review on the TBI’s website:

Rep. Hill’s initiative on domestic violence offenders passes

Staff Report

The Tennessee House of Representatives has approved an initiative sponsored by Representative Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) that cracks down on domestic violence offenders.
House Bill 516 raises minimum fines against those who knowingly violate orders of protection or restraining orders from $25 to $100.
It is part of a much larger Republican-led effort in recent years to enhance protections for victims of domestic violence and abuse.
“This measure increases penalties against those who violate orders of protection and who must be held accountable for their actions,” said Representative Hill. “It is an honor to bring this legislation in support of victims and their families. I will continue to partner with our law enforcement agencies so we can enhance safety for the citizens of our community and this state.”
In 2018, Hill also supported legislation that created the “Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program.” This measure keeps the personal addresses of domestic violence victims confidential and off certain government records.
House Bill 516 now awaits action in the Senate. Timothy Hill is Chairman of the House Commerce Committee. He is also a member of the House Calendar & Rules Committee, as well as the Business, Utilities, Banking & Investments, and Life & Health Insurance
Subcommittees. Hill represents Tennessee House District 3, which includes Johnson, and part of Carter and Sullivan Counties. Hill can be reached by email at: [email protected] or by calling (615) 741-2050.

MADD needs support to keep specialty plates

By Bethany Anderson

There are many specialty license plates available in the state of Tennessee which people use them to show their support for various causes or to show their status as a veteran for example. Specialty plates cost an extra $35.00 each year in Tennessee. The money collected from the additional costs of these plates goes towards each of the causes represented on them. Each plate must have enough interest and support represented in their purchases to remain available though.
In 2016, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Tennessee lost their specialty license plates after drivers failed to purchase the required minimum number to keep the plates in circulation.
However, Senator Paul Bailey has granted MADD Tennessee another chance. If MADD can pre-sell 1000 plates before June 30, 2019, the design will be back in circulation. It is a daunting challenge, but more is at stake than just a decorative license plate.
“Our plates serve as rolling billboards to bring awareness to the issue drunk and/or drugged driving, and what better place to have a message regarding highway safety?” said Norris Skelley, MADD Tennessee State Board member. Not only do these license plates raise awareness, but the proceeds MADD receives from each plate helps fund their Victim Services Program–which provides help to those that have been affected by impaired driving–at no cost to the victims and their families. It is a critical source of funding that was lost when the plates were discontinued.
Anyone interested in pre-ordering a MADD plate should visit and sign up. When the minimum of 1,000 pre-orders has been reached, then the $35.00 per plate will be due.
“Our plates are used to raised awareness about drunk/drugged driving, raise the necessary funding for victim services and to honor victims of impaired driving crashes, Skelley said
While there is currently no Johnson County Chapter of MADD, several locals have been working on starting one for quite some time, but have not gotten the needed support to do so.
Jeanie Linton, the mother of Jadey Dunn who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in Mountain City 20 years ago, has been trying since then to start a local chapter for Johnson County.
“We never could get the support we needed to have enough people to commit to it for MADD to let us have a chapter here,” said Linton. “I’m not ready to give up though.”
For more information regarding MADD Tennessee specialty license plates, contact Norris Skelley at [email protected] or 931-261-4168.
For more information about starting a Johnson County MADD chapter, please contact the Tennessee State Office at [email protected] or 615-360-8055.

Sentenced: Davis gets 20 years for aggravated robbery on Cold Springs Road

By Tamas Mondovics

One of the defendants following the incident on December 28, 2018, where a victim in the Cold Springs community had her home broken into by two individuals and was locked in a room of her house, has pled guilty.
According to law enforcement officials, Willie Davis, 41 of Bristol Tennessee, pled guilty in Johnson County Criminal Court on Friday, March 29, 2019.
Not mincing any words, Judge Lisa Rice sentenced Davis to 20 years to be served at 100 percent.
The incident was investigated by Johnson County Investigators, assisted by the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.
Initial reports stated that two suspects including Willie Davis and Jennifer Jenkins, 42, of Sullivan County were involved in an armed robbery and aggravated kidnapping in Johnson County, which ended after a pursuit, assisted by deputies from Sullivan County.
According to police reports, the victim was locked inside one of the rooms of the home but was eventually able to escape and flee to a residence nearby to call for assistance. The victim was then treated at an area hospital for minor injuries
Davis and Jenkins were apprehended on January 1, 2019.
“We would like to thank the Sullivan County Sheriffs Office for their time, efforts and assistance in the apprehension of these two subjects,” said JC Sheriff Eddie Tester following the suspects’ arrest. “All deputies involved did an excellent job.”
With more charges pending, Davis and Jenkins were arraigned on Wednesday morning, January 2, 2019, in Johnson County.
Davis and Jenkins were charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, and false reporting.

Three Tennesseans die by suicide everyday

New status report reveals 24.4 percent increase in suicide deaths among children ages 10-17.

Staff Report

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Each day we lose three Tennesseans to suicide, now the ninth leading cause of death in Tennessee. In 2017, there were 142 youth deaths by suicide, representing the twenty-four (10-24) age group, with 51 of these representing children between the ages of ten to seventeen (10-17). Suicide by children increased by
24.4 percent from 2016 to 2017; and more alarmingly, suicide by children increased by 54.5 percent from 2015 to 2017.
“One death by suicide is one death too many,” said Scott Ridgway, Executive Director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN). “Given the stark increase in death by suicide among children, we are working with Governor-elect Bill Lee’s transition team to impress the importance of saving all lives in Tennessee and improving our prevention efforts.”
The Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Health Statistics reports there were 1,163 recorded suicide
deaths in Tennessee in 2017, up from 1,110 the previous year. The suicide rate increased from 16.7 to 17.3 per 100,000. Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in Tennessee during 2014 – 2016.
The “2019 Status of Suicide in Tennessee” report provides state legislators, mental health professionals, and the general public with information on the problem of suicide in our state and what is being done to prevent it. Each year’s edition includes a detailed report on suicide trends within Tennessee, both overall and by age, race, gender, and geography. The complete report is available on the TSPN website at
As TSPN staff, its many volunteers, and the innumerable suicide prevention advocates across the state know, Tennessee is a national model with our efforts for suicide prevention. With that said, we must, as a state, increase our efforts to combat this public health crisis. For every number and rate that is provided in the “2019 Status of Suicide in Tennessee” report, a family member, loved one, neighbor, co-worker, and friend suffers an unimaginable loss. To learn how to get involved with TSPN or to request a suicide prevention training visit our website,

Governor signs executive order addressing public safety

The order establishes Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force.

By Tamas Mondovics

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order last month to establish the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force as promised during his State of the State address on Monday evening.
According to a release from the Governor’s office, the sixth executive order issued under his leadership comes after he outlined comprehensive plans to address public safety in Tennessee amid higher rates of violent crime and recidivism.
“There is a high cost to crime in our state and we need to consider who is paying the price for this – victims pay the price, families pay the price and taxpayers pay the price,” said Lee. “Our task force is committed to building smart solutions that make our neighborhoods safer.”
Lee’s office stated that the incarcerated population of Tennessee has grown by 34 percent since 2000, despite six consecutive years of reduced admissions to the criminal justice system.
The task force will be chaired with appointments including crime victims and their families, members of the General Assembly, state agencies, law enforcement, community and faith-based programs, and formerly incarcerated individuals by former judge Brandon Gibson of Crockett County.
The task force is promising to develop legislative and budgetary recommendations regarding the following public safety issues:

•Crime prevention and recidivism reduction
•Punishing violent crime promptly and effectively
•Supporting crime victims and their families
•Addressing mental health and substance abuse among the incarcerated
•Revising sentencing guidelines and parole/probation standards
•Addressing the rising fiscal and social costs of incarceration
•Preparing inmates to re-enter society and find pathways outside of crime through education and technical job training
•Equipping inmates’ families and communities with tools to help inmates become productive members of society

Lee has proposed measures to crack down on fentanyl traffickers, increase pay for corrections officers and law enforcement, reduce expungement fees and increase educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals.