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A year like no other

2020 was the year that changed life for all of us. For the first time in our lifetime, we dealt with a pandemic that mandated social distancing, masking up, the sporadic closures of businesses (and jobs) deemed nonessential, the loss of in-person classes in schools, and, frequently, the loss of social gatherings including church services, family reunions, traditional weddings, and funerals.
2020 brought a frightening sense of “aloneness.” Healthy family members kept their distance for fear of spreading the highly contagious COVID-19 to a loved one. Cherished family members in long-term care facilities were not allowed to have visitors. Loved ones, ill and hospitalized with COVID-19, fought their battles against the disease without family by their sides. And sadly, some loved ones lost their battle.



Attorney Passes

Lavender’s law office, where he practiced for more than 40 years.


McCreary County Attorney and businessman Tim Lavender passed away suddenly following an abrupt illness. His loss was deeply felt across the county.
Trial Date Set for Cases Against Norfolk Southern Railroad

Trial Date Set for Cases Against Norfolk Southern Railroad

After seemingly countless delays, the local cases against Norfolk Southern Railroad for blocking railroad crossings were given a date for court. McCreary County District Court Judge Fred White ordered the cases against the railroad company to move forward and set a jury trial date of April 22 – more than two years after the legal proceedings began.


First Alcohol Sales

It was an historic day (for good or ill depending on your perspective) for McCreary County as the first legalized alcohol sales under a new county ordinance took place. L&S Grocery, on West Highway 92, near the Wayne County line, was the first official business to obtain a local license and begin selling beer.


Booze Bandits

Sheriff Randy Waters and the McCreary County Sheriff’s Department recovered a stolen trailer filled with over $100,000 of liquor in Pine Knot Saturday afternoon. The discovery came just two days after the first legal alcohol sales in the county began under the new alcohol ordinance, but the two events were unrelated as licensed sellers must obtain their stock through a licensed distributor.

Federal Judge Rules Sheriff Can’t Cite Railroad Blockages

United States District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled in favor of the Association of American Railroads in their federal case against McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters, County Attorney Austin Price and their Pulaski County counterparts, Greg Speck and Martin Hatfield. The Judge’s ruling stated federal law supersedes state law in the case of railroad operations. McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters stated he would comply with the ruling and cease issuing citations, but expressed frustration that there was no recourse for the residents of Mt. Pleasant Road and other areas whose lives are affected by stopped trains. The timing of the ruling was interesting as it came a week after District Court Judge Fred White ruled the five McCreary County cases against Norfolk Southern would go to trial on April 22. With the federal judge’s ruling, the local cases, both in McCreary and Pulaski, were apparently rendered moot, as the Court cannot prosecute a statute that has been rendered invalid.

A Hometown Favorite

McCreary Countians tuned in to watch as their hometown favorite, twenty-five year old Zach Day, pursued his musical career during Season 18 of NBC’s highly rated television show, “The Voice.” Day’s blind audition aired on NBC and successfully landed him a spot on Team Legend (John Legend).

Jail Contract Approved

The McCreary County fiscal Court approved a contract with the Knox County Jail to begin housing prisoners at the new facility in Barbourville.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Begins


Life changed as McCreary County reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19, a 20-year-old female from Pine Knot. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCreary County Schools Superintendent Corey Keith announced the school district, along with others across the state, would close for four weeks. Additionally, all extra-curricular and athletic activities were suspended.

Governor issues more COVID-19 restrictions

Non-life sustaining businesses were mandated to temporarily close. Essential businesses remained open with social distancing required. In following with Governor Andy Beshear’s order, no social gatherings such as church services, funerals, weddings, etc. were permitted.

COVID-19 Fears Result in Panic Buying

With the news of schools and businesses closing adding to the fears of a possible quarantine, many citizens descended on local grocery and convenience stores to load up on food and household items. This frenzy left some foodstuffs and household goods in short supply.

People Helping People

While the government and some utilities took steps to protect the public, such as ensuring no utility cut-offs and financial assistance, some citizens stepped up to help their fellow man as well. Judge Greene’s office worked with Sandra Cundiff and Kroger to help deliver food to people who couldn’t get out or deemed to be at “higher risk” if they contracted the COVID-19 virus. Other individuals and organizations came to the forefront to help others through the difficult time. One example was the Crossroads Community Church – The Lord’s Cafe, located next to the Parkland Motel in Stearns on U.S. 27. In the wake of the edict to encourage social distancing, the Café’ transitioned to a drive-up service for distribution of meals and food.


Tornado Terror

For a brief few minutes, some residents of Whitley City were surprised by a sudden and violent storm that spawned an EF1 tornado – downing several trees and damaging houses. Fortunately, despite the lateness of the event and lack of advance warning, no injuries were reported, but there was significant damage to the area where the tornado spawned.


Shake Up in School District

“The Voice” reported on a shake up in the local school district. Following the reveal of a “scathing” report from the Kentucky Department of Education the McCreary County Board of Education voted to eliminate the position of Assistant Superintendent, along with two other positions during their March meeting. The Board also approved paying back nearly $200,000 of federal grant money due to some of the funding being spent inappropriately. The moves came after a report following a Consolidated Monitoring Visit by the KDE earlier this year, which conducted a review of federal grant programs in the district. The report found several instances where spending was not aligned to needs and un-allowed purchases of materials with the federal funds. Superintendent Corey Keith informed the Board that the review was a requirement for every school district utilizing federal funding, and was the first such review in McCreary since 2003.

Classes Dismissed

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact daily life, Governor Andy Beshear announced that the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year in Kentucky would be completed using distance learning and Non Traditional Instruction practices.

The Ballot is in the Mail

With the COVID-19 outbreak already pushing the Kentucky Primary Election back by more than a month, Governor Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams announced plans to allow for more absentee by-mail voting to be used to cast ballots in the election and to limit in-person voting at polling places. The Governor issued an Executive Order calling for all registered voters in the state to use absentee voting by mail for the June 23 election if they are able to do so.

Get Counted

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Census goes on unabated.

EMS Gets Equipment

The Ambulance Service purchased three ultra-violet lamps designed to disinfect surfaces and equipment in ambulances to help kill bacteria and viruses on surfaces as a way to further combat the spread of COVID-19.


Class of 2020

Due to COVID-19, the McCreary Central High School Class of 2020 celebrated the end of their high school careers with a drive-up commencement.

COVID-19 Testing

The McCreary County Fiscal Court, Lake Cumberland Health Department and South Fork Medical Clinic held a free testing day for residents with hundreds of people taking advantage of the testing.


Larger than Normal Vote for Primary

A larger than normal vote turned out for the Primary Election. County Clerk Eric Haynes estimated 30% of registered voters voted. With only one polling place at the Whitley City Fire Department, the voting process seemed to go smoothly. Haynes said, “There weren’t a lot of complaints, everything went smoothly for the county only having one polling place.”

County Teenager Receives Kidney

Readers of “The Voice” were happy to learn Tyler Lay, a McCreary County teenager in need of a kidney transplant, received a compatible, donated kidney during a successful operation conducted at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.


In-Person Classes Delayed

After a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in McCreary County, the Board of Education and Superintendent Corey Keith announced no in-person classes until mid-October.

State Mandates Lead to Increase in Property Value Reassessments

“It’s obviously not something I wanted to do or planned to do, but I’m bound by state law to do the job I’m elected to do. I’m trying to do my job as fair as I can,” McCreary County Property Valuation Administrator (PVA) Dwight Ross noted when asked about the increased number of property value reassessments in 2020. According to Ross there was an increased number of “change in assessment” notifications this year in comparison to last year as a result of reviews and mandates by the Department of Revenue.

Occupation Tax Collections Increase

Occupation Tax collections for the fiscal year 2019-20 ending on June 30, 2020 increased $75,848.19 over the previous year. The year-end total was $1,736,674.19 collected. The previous year OC tax collections totaled $1,660,826.58.

Masking Up

A Kentucky executive order requiring face coverings went into effect on July 10 for at least one month in an attempt to slow the spiraling spread of COVID-19 and stabilize an economy reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. County businesses and citizens grappled with the face covering mandate from Governor Beshear as the Lake Cumberland Health Department received complaints concerning businesses and or customers not wearing face masks. The health department followed up on all complaints and provided education regarding the Governor’s order requiring face coverings. All stores, including ‘non-confrontational’ stores, were included, Guidance from the Governor’s office noted that noncompliant stores may be subject to warnings, fines, or closings. Store owners were told to contact local law enforcement if a customer became angry or frustrated over requests to wear face masks.

A Fowl Situation

McCreary County was one of three Kentucky counties highlighted in a video posted recently to Facebook by an Illinois based animal protection organization. The nonprofit organization, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), recently swept into rural Kentucky to infiltrate, film, and expose cockfighting as part of their nationwide “Crush Cockfighting” campaign. The video depicts alleged rooster fighting or rooster fighting activity at Shaker Hill in Butler County, Laurel Creek Game Club in Clay County, and Honest Abe’s in southeastern McCreary County. The investigation in Kentucky was undertaken with financial support from SHARK’s partner, the Humane Farming Association (HFA)

Everyone Needs a Hero

During a patriotic ceremony held on the steps of the McCreary County Courthouse, retired Army Lt. Colonel Sherrill Owens watched with pride as his idea of erecting a monument honoring McCreary County’s Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, the late Wilburn K. Ross, became a reality. Ross singlehandedly fought off eight German attacks during a WW II battle in France.


Rise in COVID-19 Cases

McCreary School Superintendent Corey Keith reported five School District staff members tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. A local church also reported an outbreak among some of its congregation.

Early Voting to Begin October 13

County Clerk Eric Haynes announced early voting would begin on October 13 at the courthouse. For early voters, convenience voting will be available on week days during business hours and four hours on the three Saturdays prior to November 3rd, Election Day.

Shots exchanged when Trooper Attempted Arrest

Shots rang out in down town Whitley City when KSP Trooper Craig Reed attempted to arrest Christopher A. Phillips of Pine Knot, KY, who was wanted on felony charges. During the attempted arrest, Phillips shot at Trooper Reed. The Trooper returned fire, and shots were exchanged with Phillips running to the area behind the United Cumberland Bank toward the Whitley City Fire Department. Trooper Reed was able to apprehend Phillips. No one was injured during the gunfire exchange.

High Speed Chase

Kentucky State Police attempting a traffic stop near Williamsburg became involved in a high speed chase when a late model black Toyota fled from officers while travelling west on KY Hwy 92 toward McCreary County. At times, the speeding vehicle traveled at speeds near 100 miles per hour. The vehicle eventually made the turn from Hwy 92 onto US Hwy 27 traveling north. The driver made a critical error when he turned onto Pigskin Road and eventually crashed in a ditch. Two Ohioans were arrested and charged with several counts. A search of the car revealed a parcel of weed butter (butter mixed with THC) inside a wrapper with wedding cake written on it.

District Prepares for Forensic Financial Audit

The McCreary County Board of Education voted to employ Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC to guide the School District through a forensic audit of District finances as part of their effort to get a more complete look at Federal grant programs.

Here Comes the Sun

Thanks to the efforts of the United States Forest Service (USFS)/Stearns Ranger District and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFW), the Daniel Boone National Forest in McCreary County offered its visitors five different fields of sunflowers for their viewing pleasure. In a year with strict precautions for social distancing and masking up, COVID-19 weary residents and visitors were happy to drive by and see the cheery fields of sunshine at Barren Fork and Rock Creek. The beautiful flowers lifted spirits and provided a beautiful backdrop for photographs.


Sheriff’s Department Busy with Drug Related Cases

Drugs kept the Sheriff’s Department busy in September as they charged five individuals on Lick Creek Road with drug related counts and made a $46,000 drug bust in Pine Knot. The officers also confiscated two huge marijuana plants over seven feet high growing near a mobile home located on Old Cal Hill.

Former Judge Executive Blaine Phillips Passes

Blaine Phillips, former McCreary County Judge-Executive, passed away on September 7, 2020 following an extended illness. Phillips served McCreary County as Judge-Executive for two terms beginning in 2002. Phillips was also known locally as a businessman and long-time educator.

Trump Train

Much to the delight of Trump fans, the first of two local Trump Trains rolled through Whitley City. With flags flying and horns blowing, more than 200 cars, trucks and motorcycles made their way from the parking lots of Hometown Furniture, the First Baptist Church, and side streets traveling north on US HWY 27 through the county. The Trump Train continued northward with Downtown Somerset as its destination.

Tax Rates Set

Having already adopted the second lowest property tax rate in the state in 2019, the McCreary County Board of Education dropped their rate even lower for 2020. Following a hearing for public comment regarding proposed tax rates, members of the McCreary County Board of Education unanimously adopted the following 2020/2021 school year rates: Real Property-39.8 cents per $100 (or $3.98 per $1,000); Personal Property-39.8 cents per $100; Motor Vehicle-46.7 cents per $100; Utility-3%. The 2020/21 rates for Real Property and Personal Property dropped from 40.4 and 41.1 cents in 2019, respectively.
McCreary County Fiscal Court met in a special called meeting to acknowledge the rates set by the Board of Education and to finalize the County’s compensating rate of 8.80 cents per $100 (88 cents per $1,000) for Real Property and 20.40 for Motor & Watercraft.

County Breaks Half-Million Dollar Mark For Gross Sales of Alcohol

By September, McCreary County businesses had raked in $631,718.06 in total gross sales of alcohol since the legal sale of alcoholic beverages began earlier this year at the end of February. $253,645.68 of the total gross sales occurred after July 1-the start of the County’s Fiscal Year. The latest report from the McCreary County Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Office indicated the County had, since February, collected $49,953.63 from regulatory fees and sales of licenses. The County is required to pay all administrative expenses necessary to maintain local sales of alcohol including the salaries of an ABC Director and other related staff.


Arbitrator Awards $730,000 to McCreary County Heritage Foundation

Arbitrator Thomas R. Yokum rendered a decision and final award to McCreary County Heritage Foundation (MCHF) in the amount of $730,284.60 as a result of court-ordered arbitration between Claimant McCreary County Heritage Foundation against Respondents Wasatch Railroad Contractors and John E. Rimmasch for breach of contract regarding the restoration of a steam locomotive.
Grady Wilson becomes Public

Library Director

Grady Wilson began his new position as Director of the McCreary County Public Library. Wilson replaced Kay Morrow who retired after serving for more than forty years as library director.

2020 Yamacraw Race Cancelled

The annual Yamacraw Trail Run which attracts racers from across the nation was forced to cancel this year’s race due to COVID-19 restrictions. The race, normally held in April, was cancelled earlier in the spring and rescheduled for November. With COVID-19 restrictions continuing, organizers were also forced to cancel the November race. Organizers plan to resume the Yamacraw in April 2021.

Record Early Vote

Local election officials gave a conservative estimate that more than 3,800 early votes would be cast in the General Election by Election Day on November 3rd. Officials reported an estimated daily average of over 200 ballots cast Monday through Friday and over 100 on Saturdays since early voting at the Courthouse began on October 13.


Election Results

A record number of McCreary Countians voted in the General Election. Returning to office were Congressman Hal Rogers, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, State Representative and Kenneth Upchurch. Johnny Barnett and Noah Duncan were elected and Nelda Gilreath was re-elected to the McCreary County School Board. Although President Donald J. Trump carried McCreary County and Kentucky, he was narrowly defeated by presidential candidate Joe Biden in a nationwide election that continues to be contested by many.

Community Mourns Passing of a Local Educator and a Longtime Constable

The community mourned the passing of McCreary County School Board Member Nelda Gilreath. Gilreath passed away just a few hours after being reelected as District 1 Board Member on the Board of Education. Gilreath served thirty-three years as a teacher in the system before retiring. After retiring, she was elected and served twelve years as board member.
In November, “The Voice” also reported on the passing of eighty-eight year old Bradley Waters who still served as Constable in District 2 at the time of his passing. Waters had served numerous terms as constable and was well-known and liked throughout the community.

Vacancies Declared on Board of Education

McCreary County School Board members voted unanimously to declare vacancies in two districts. The vacancy in District 1 was declared due to the recent passing of long-time School Board Member Nelda Gilreath. The vacancy in District 3 resulted after Chairperson Dustin Stephens submitted his resignation. In submitting his resignation, Stephens said he had moved his residence from District 3 and therefore was no longer eligible to serve as board member for that district. However, Stephens noted he is currently a resident of District 1 and announced his intent to submit an application to be considered as an appointee to fill the District 1 vacancy. Members of the Board of Education also acknowledged a non-acceptance letter from Noah Duncan who ran unopposed and was elected as incoming District 3 Board Member during the General Election earlier this month. Duncan did not accept the elected position because he no longer resides in Kentucky.
The remaining three board members have sixty days to appoint individuals to fill the two vacancies.


Rogers Announces $1 Million Grant For A New Medical Clinic In Mccreary County

U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) applauded a $1 million grant awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to the Cumberland Family Medical Center (CFMC) to build a new healthcare clinic in Whitley City.
Currently, CFMC is designing a new clinic in Whitley City which will increase the capacity and capability of the area to respond to and recover from future emergencies and disasters. It will also support the continuity of access to high quality primary care services for the underserved and vulnerable populations in McCreary County.
The new clinic will be an immediate care facility operating with extended days and hours of operation. The clinic will be open 365 days per year, 8 AM – 8 PM and offer a combination of health care services including acute care/walk-in treatment in addition to Family Practice services for those with chronic medical care needs.


McCreary County Judge Executive Jimmie “Bevo” Greene issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to the temporary loss of operating ambulances in McCreary County. Judge Greene declared the emergency after being approached by EMS Director Jimmy Barnett. With only two ambulances in operating condition instead of the normal six, Barnett explained one ambulance is out of order after hitting a deer and two are having engine trouble. When a fourth ambulance went down, Barnett said he approached Judge Greene to ask for an emergency order. The state of emergency order allows the county to by-pass the bid process if it becomes necessary to quickly purchase an ambulance due to the current shortage of vehicles. Barnett said he hopes to find a loaner vehicle to use until the current McCreary County ambulances are back in service. However, he noted it is best to have the state of emergency order in place so an ambulance (used) can be quickly purchased if a loaner vehicle is not secured. Barnett said the Pulaski and Whitley County Emergency Medical Services have been assisting McCreary County with runs when needed. The magistrates unanimously approved the declaration of a state of emergency due to the lack of ambulances.

Drive Through and Drive By for Holiday Events

Even Santa and his elves were forced to social distance during 2020. Organizers adapted traditional holiday events to meet COVID-19 restrictions by hosting a virtual Christmas Tree Lighting/Drive By Santa Claus event, and a Drive Through/Prepare Food at Home “Banquet of Blessings.” Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, holiday spirit was still evident throughout McCreary County.

COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Spike

Covid-19 continued to dominate local, state, and national news, and the first local shipment of vaccine arrived in McCreary County.

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