Rafting drowning victim identified

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has released the identity of a man who drowned Thursday on the Pigeon River in Cocke County.

TWRA spokesperson Matthew Cameron says that at approximately 1:40 p.m., Norvell Fleming, 39, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, died after a raft capsized upstream from Hartford while he was on a trip with a commercial rafting company.

The victim was wearing a life jacket.

Cameron said rafting guides pulled Fleming from the water and started CPR, but he was dead on arrival at the Newport Medical Center.

In addition to TWRA and Cocke County EMA, the Cocke County Sheriff’s Department, Grassy Fork Volunteer Fire Department and First Call EMS were on the scene.

Hawkins Virtual Academy accepting applications

Hawkins Virtual Academy accepting applications for 2021-22 school year

The Hawkins County Virtual Academy is now accepting applications for the 2021-2022 school year.

The application is online and can be found on the Hawkins County Schools website at www.hck12.net.

Current homeschool families in need of curriculum support and tutoring are highly encouraged to apply.

Application decisions will be announced via the email on file by July 15, 2021.

Please do not call and check status of applications as this will slow the application review process.

Space is limited. Questions may be directed to the HCVA principal, Sharon Lindsey at 423-272-7629, ext. 2320.

Tennessee man sues city over fines, jail from illegal rental

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man who spent three days in jail for operating a short-term rental unit without a permit is suing the city of Nashville, which he says targeted him because he had been on a reality TV show.

Layton Jones filed his lawsuit in February in U.S. District Court in Nashville.

On Wednesday, the court granted the city an extension of time to file a reply until May 5.

Nashville officials initially cited Jones in July 2017 for improperly renting out a four-bedroom home, the Tennessean reported.

Under a court injunction, he was blocked from applying for a permit to operate another short-term rental there for three years.

He continued renting the home and, in 2019, he was ordered to spend three days in jail and pay a $20,050 fine – $50 fine per infraction for each of the 401 days he continued to operate the short-term rental.

In the suit, Jones claims the city stacked charges against him and other owners by waiting for numerous violations to pile up before starting formal court proceedings.

He also accuses two court staff of deliberately slowing his release after he posted bond to a degree that amounted to false imprisonment.

Jones said he believes the city targeted him for enforcement because he had been on a reality TV show.

“They sought to use that publicity to make an example of Mr. Jones and reporting his detention to the media,” the suit claims.

The suit also argues that the city’s Environmental Court may not have had the authority to file the injunction blocking him from getting a permit.

Knox County votes to strip health board of power

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee county voted this week to strip the local Board of Health of the power to enact pandemic safety rules after complaints that its indoor mask mandate and bar curfew have hurt businesses and restricted personal freedoms, according to published reports.

The 8-3 vote by the Knox County Commission on Monday came after months of public feuding. It effectively dissolved the health board and reconstituted it with the same members an advisory board

. That leaves the county with two health advisory boards, since it created another one last year. It’s unclear what the role of the newly constituted board will be.

New ordinances take effect 15 days after their passage. County Law Director David Buuck said that after that, not only will the board be dissolved but its pandemic safety orders “will be of no force or legal effect.”

Knox County Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan will then have the sole authority to enact pandemic safety precautions.

She could let the rules lapse, but she could also create new ones, even ones that are more restrictive than the current rules. Buchanan can only be removed by the state health commissioner and county mayor acting together, according to state law.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, a voting member of the health board, and several county commissioners have been vocal in their opposition to pandemic safety measures because of restrictions on businesses, although Jacobs has said he doesn’t plan to fire Buchanan.

Ahead of the vote Monday, Board of Health member Dr. Patrick O’Brien wrote commissioners saying he would resign if they if they went through with it, and focus his time and energy elsewhere.

The only person to speak ahead of the vote was Commission Chairman Larsen Jay, who compared the pandemic to a forest fire, urging his fellow commissioners to “never leave a hot fire unattended and simply walk away.”

Knox County’s vote came after a bill by state Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, to limit the authority of the state’s six independent boards of health passed the House in a 67-26 vote.

As of Thursday, 619 Knox County residents had died from COVID-19. The state death toll was 11,915.