The River Valley’s Biggest Stories of the Year


We take a look back at some of the biggest news stories affecting the River Valley in 2012.

The year began with the murder of a Fort Smith woman.  Cassie Cotta was found strangled to death off a county road in Crawford County.  Her husband Brent would eventually plead guilty to murder.

A few days later, a Fort Smith man was found shot to death in an alley off South 17th street.  Brandon Fritts, of Sallisaw, was later found guilty of that murder.

Also in January, an Ozark teenager was found shot to death in her home.  Candace Harvey, 16, was killed by her brother Colton who later plead guilty to second degree murder.

In February, a bizarre case involving a Northside High cheerleader.  Neisha Forrest was sitting in her northside home when shots rang out.  She was hit in the neck with the bullet that lodged itself very close to her spine.  A few days later, the bullet was removed.

Later in the month a 12-year-old Waldron boy sprung into action after he finds two strangers inside his neighbor’s house.  Jerry Hopper walked into his neighbor’s house and saw a man and a woman inside.  That’s when he grabbed a gun and shot the man between the legs.

In March, the idea of deepening the Arkansas River from 9 feet to 12 feet was kicked around.  Local business leaders say once that happens barges will be able to carry more meaning greater profits.

Also in march, Fort Smith voters approved a 1 percent sales tax that will fund a new fire station and water park.

The 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith got a new wing commander.  Colonel Mark Anderson replaced Colonel Tom Anderson.  Later in March, part of the 188th was deployed to Afghanistan.

In April, Mitsubishi announced it was mothballing a multi-million dollar plant at Chaffee Crossing.  A lawsuit by GE over a wind turbine design patent is keeping the plant empty.

Later in the month a LeFlore County pregnant 20-year old is found dead near Spiro.  Kaloni Flynn had been shot in the head.  The father of the baby, Christopher Simpson faces two counts of murder.

In the same month, the Southside High School marching band was cheated out of a trip to Hawaii after the travel agent they used stole their money.  A trip to Florida was later taken.

In May, an Arkansas state employee was killed and another woman was arrested after a shooting at the Van Buren rest stop Sharren Richards, 54, was shot twice. Patricia McClure-Hajek, 58, of Franklin County was arrested and charged with 1st degree murder.

Also in May, a Fort Smith man will face the death penalty after stabbing his pregnant wife in the stomach.  James Herring, 34, is charged with stabbing Celestia Duffin, who died in the lobby of the Fort Smith Police Department.

In June, the largest annual outdoor music festival in the River Valley was held.  Wakarusa draws about 20,000 people.

Also in June, after 45 years in operation, the Fort Smith Whirlpool plant closed its doors for good.  The property now is still up for sale.

In July, more member of the 188th Fighter Wing are deployed to Afghanistan for three months.

Van Buren voters approved a sales tax increase for a new police department headquarters building, new fire station and park improvements.

It was also one of the hottest and driest Julys in recent history.

In August, Ibn Islam of Fort Smith was found shot to death in his house.  He was a suspect in a murder that took place the same day.

Right before school started in Fort Smith, the district announced it would start random drug dog searches of students’ lockers.

Later in the month, a huge rally was held downtown to save the 188th Fighter Wing.  The Air Force is planning to move the A-10’s and replace them with drones.

The continued dry weather in September helped spark a huge grass fire near Altus.  Firefighters spent a lot of their time spraying houses to keep them from going up.

A Fort Smith doctor was arrested after police found an indoor marijuana growing operation in his home.  Dr. Jimmy Acklin eventually has his license suspended and he was placed on indefinite administrative leave from Sparks Health System.

In October, a hunter stumbles across whey turns out to be human bones.  The guy was on a small island on the Arkansas River when he found a skull.  The remains have not been identified.

A Van Buren police office was named state officer of the year. Corporal David Passon was presented the award by state attorney general Dustin McDaniel.

The month of November began with the search for a missing Pocola woman.  Ruby Poole, 74, wandered away from her home.  Her body was found not far from it.  No foul play was suspected.

On Election Day, several issues were on the ballot along with hundreds of candidate races.  Voters in Arkansas defeated a medical marijuana law, approved a sales tax to find highway projects, and for the first time since the civil war, Republicans gained control of the legislature.

Late in November, a popular Fort Smith restaurant was heavily damaged by a fire.  Calico County does have plans to re-open.

In December, Fort Smith city directors decided to give city workers a pay raise but not the mayor.  It’s a 1.9 percent across the board raise for about 900 workers.  The board decided against doubling the mayor’s salary to $20,000.

Also, the effort to raise millions of dollars needed to build the US Marshal’s Museum began its national push.  So far, about $10,000 out of the $50,000 needed has been raised.
Click here to see Northwest Arkansas’ biggest stories of the year.



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