River Valley 2019 Year In Review

RIVER VALLEY (KFSM) — 2019 is coming to an end and we’re taking a look back at what made headlines.

2019 in the River Valley started off a little smelly for residents. Owners of land in Crawford County, Denali Water Solutions, where the smell was coming from apologized for the smell that lasted for days.

A sales tax increase proposal to benefit the U.S. Marshals Museum was announced and it was soundly defeated months later.

In February, the first-ever all-girls Boy Scout troop in Fort Smith was organized. This was after the Boys Scouts of America began welcoming girls as members.

After Pope County initially refused to allow a casino to be built, Johnson County approved a measure to bring a casino there.

March saw Fort Smith’s police chief resign. Nathaniel Clark left Fort Smith to take a job at a police department near Atlanta.

In April, high water bills caused by a new billing system in Fort Smith were finally fixed. Fort Smith schools made parents verify their addresses to make sure students were going to the right school.

“What we’re trying to do is reduce the number of students who get moved from one school to another and have to be bussed,” said Executive Director of Student Services Darian Layes. This move was also to keep some schools from overcrowding.

Record-breaking flooding took up the whole month of May. Heavy rain in North Oklahoma caused the Arkansas River to rise to heights never seen before, and the damage was massive.

The whole month of June was spent assessing the damage caused by the floods.

In July, the Fort Smith School District welcomed a new athletics director. Michael Beaumont took over for Daren McKinney who was assigned to a new position with the district.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be apart of such a history rich in tradition programs such as Northside and Southside,” Beaumont said.

Also, the Van Buren Police Department started a brand new motorcycle unit.

Heavy rain over one weekend in August caused quite a bit of damage in Fort Smith including shutting down Union Christian Academy and moving students to other locations. The same rain event also lead to the drowning death of Debbie Stevens in Fort Smith who died while on the phone with a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

The second of two cyclists from Fort Smith died in September. Jim Krause was killed after he rode off a cliff during a race in Little Rock. John Mundell died a few months earlier after a car hit him. No one has been arrested in that case.

Danny Baker was named Fort Smith Police Chief.

“What I want to be remembered as is a servant to others. And that’s the message that I want to impart to the police department and to the men and women who work there,” said Chief Danny Baker.

In October, a long time Fort Smith City prosecutor John Settle died while working out at a local fitness club. And a multi-million dollar renovation project paid for by a millage increase passed two years ago started at Southside High School.

In November, work on the same project started at Northside High School. Both schools will get a new gymnasium, a new 9th-grade center, and a more secure entryway and offices. Fort Smith fire investigators say a natural gas wall furnace is to blame for a house fire that left a mom and two of her four children dead.

In December, two Barling Police officers were terminated due to an ongoing investigation into a personnel matter. Lt. Aaron Townsend and Keith Lindley were the officers who were fired.  Chief Jerry Foley was also fired several days later.

Fort Smith’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary finally opened in December.

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