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Fleischmann optimistic about new coronavirus relief package

The local area’s representative in the federal government is optimistic about the passage of another stimulus package to combat the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) held an interview with The Advocate & Democrat Monday consisting of various topics, including the coronavirus response and when to expect another stimulus package.

Congress has been in gridlock for some time over the next package, but Fleischmann said he believes things may be beginning to turn.

“With the implementation of the executive order by President (Donald) Trump dealing with student loans and dealing with unemployment, I think that actually helped the process,” Fleischmann said. “Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate were at an impasse as to what should be done, how much should be done. All of the fundamentals, I think, were properly addressed in the first four bills in a more bipartisan way, more practical way, that I think the American people could look at and say this is a good use of funds.”

That impasse is likely to be broken soon, though, Fleischmann predicted.

“We have a situation now, based on the executive order, where (Speaker of the House Nancy) Pelosi and (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer have lost a lot of leverage,” Fleischmann said. “Issues that I think were very important — stimulus checks, forbearance on student loans, unemployment dollars — those issues were taken off the table, I think, very adeptly by President Trump. This sets the tone for very fertile conversations between the House and the Senate.”

However, while he thinks it may have led to the beginning of a solution in this situation, Fleischmann cautioned that he doesn’t want to see executive orders continue to be used to break stalemates in the legislature.

“I don’t necessarily like to see government by executive order,” he said. “President Obama used it a lot, President Trump uses it a lot, President Roosevelt used it a lot. I think we’re going to have to get back, at some point in time, to some semblance of regular order.”

He added that this year was a particularly tough time for the coronavirus to spring up.

“It would have been a terrible thing to happen anytime, but it’s especially bad to happen in the year of a national election,” he said. “Every decision that was going to get made was going to, sadly, have political overtones. It will fail when we have divided government.”

Fleischmann said he expects this bill to be “closer to $1 trillion” and he hopes it will get passed before the end of the year.

Prior to the impasse over this potential bill, Fleischmann said he was happy with the way the branches of government worked together to get the previous relief bills through.

“The federal government did an outstanding job — and I mean the House, the Senate and the White House — to work together with the four comprehensive coronavirus stimulus packages so far,” he said.

More locally, Fleischmann said the State of Tennessee has received about $3 billion and he thinks the state government has “used that well.”

Fleischmann argued that there should be more direct funding of smaller cities, however, much like how Nashville and Memphis can apply directly for aid.

“I argued unsuccessfully for smaller cities like Athens to be able to go directly and apply for aid,” he said.

Fleischmann added that he’s also happy with how the state government adjusted its budget as the shutdowns took place.

“This thing is not going to be a one budget cycle problem,” he said. “It’s going to be a two or three year fiscal budgetary problem. The State of Tennessee has a very large rainy day fund, but I did not want them to deplete this fund.”

Fleischmann also noted that the local area handled the reopening of businesses and schools well.

“Given the totality of the circumstances, I applaud your local government for the way they’ve handled it,” he said. “This is unprecedented territory. It’s not something there was a blueprint to deal with it. We’ve got to get back to work, back to school, back to playing football. We just have to be safe about it.”

Looking ahead in terms of the coronavirus, Fleischmann encouraged people to be safe as they continue forward.

“Continue to be careful,” he said. “Live your lives in as normal a manner as possible. Use social distancing, wear a mask, do the types of things that show concern for others as well as yourself. It’s going to be here for a while.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Advocate & Democrat has reached out to the campaign of Fleischmann’s election opponent, Democrat Meg Gorman, for an interview and will conduct one if possible.

Sweetwater airfield an attraction for regional paragliders

It’s not quite death defying, but highly satisfying for adrenaline junkies like the Moonshine Fliers of East Tennessee who need a break from work and the challenges of every day life.

Powered paragliding is what the group of 25 is addicted to; the opportunity to fly like a bird, floating on air. This is what draws them frequently to Sweetwater’s West Wind Airpark.

“The experience of running, running and then suddenly not touching the ground is amazing,” said Jean Bilheux. “I have the same feeling each time I take off, excited about every flight I make.”

West Wind Air Park, located on County Road 322 near two junkyards and a cornfield, is one of the group’s favorite locations. The air park, a functional airport for ultralight planes, is owned by Bobby and Betty Lewis.

A licensed pilot and franchiser, Bobby Lewis, 85, loves everything about flying. The couple looks forward each month to seeing their backyard sky decorated with colorful paragliders when the skies are clear and the wind is calm.

“We sit on our porch and watch each time they come to fly,” said Bobby Lewis, who owns a Challenger ultralight, housed in a hangar near his back door. “The fliers have been coming for several years. We enjoy them.”

Paragliding has been around for decades. More recently, paramotoring, powered paragliding or PPG, has become popular for the aviation guru who loves the freedom of flying from almost anywhere with no walls, windows or other restraints.

Group member Axel Caban Fernandez came up with the name for the group several years ago. His wife, Zoraida Reyes, is currently the only female member.

On July 17, five fliers made a night of it, enjoying the Sweetwater sky and the camaraderie, which is as important to them as the flying.

Bilheux, 48, has been paramotoring for only three years but thinking about flying since he was a child.

The computer instrument scientist has a glider and single-engine pilot’s license but wanted a way to fly from anywhere at the end of a long day at work. He gained interest in the sport while watching a random YouTube video.

“Since I started to walk, I wanted to fly,” said Bilheux, who decided to conquer his fear of heights. The West Knoxville resident said the Sweetwater location is one of his favorites.

On his bucket list is flying the Loire Valley countryside in France, his homeland, with a breathtaking view of many castles below.

Bilheux’s wife and children are nervous when he flies. He said he has a deal to always let them know when he has completed a fly and is back on the ground.

“Each time I land, I text my wife that I made it safely back to earth,” he said.

Bilheux said his longest flight was almost 90 minutes at an altitude of 3,000 feet.

Dr. Ken Strike, M.D., is a radiation oncologist and avid paraglider with almost 13 years of experience under his glider wing. The Andersonville resident said he first heard about paramotoring on the Internet.

When Strike, 57, was in his 30s, he had a pilot’s license but stopped flying because of a heart issue.

“I’m not disappointed that I can’t fly planes, paramotoring is a lot more exciting without the restrictions,” said Strike.

“My first flight was kind of an accident,” he recalled. “I promised my instructor if he would let me take the equipment home, I’d never try to fly without him present. About 30 minutes after I got home one day, I fired it up and was able to fly in my front yard. Like any good pilot, I crashed on landing and had to fix all my equipment so my instructor would never know. Every flight is still as thrilling as that first one.”

Strike’s longest flight was about 40 miles, 6,500 feet high.

“It was very cold up there and I felt really small. I have flown the beach and the mountains and still get excited to fly all the local fields in East Tennessee,” he noted.

Tommy Gossett, 58, is a graphic designer who has worked from home for 30 years. He has been paramotoring for six years.

“Before that, I had no idea you could actually fly at only 15 to 25 mph in any form of aviation. Your first several flights are probably the most exciting, as your body and brain are experiencing something you’ve only dreamed of,” Gossett said. “Talking shop with the other pilots is half of the fun for me. There is a degree of safety in numbers as well, not to mention having help if anyone has an emergency landing and needs to be picked up.”

Gossett said he has experienced five “engine outs,” which is when the engine quits while flying.

“That can be concerning,” he recalled. “The first time that happened, I ran out of fuel and it was only my third flight. I was having so much fun, I forgot to get gas!”

Gossett, a Knoxville resident, agrees with the others who say that the magic of flying only gets better with time. His highest altitude was 3,500 feet but he prefers to stay under 500 feet to see the wildlife.

“I can feel the wind’s subtle temperature changes, the smell of freshly cut crops and the amount of lift change as I fly over different surfaces like water or pavement,” Gossett observed. “I have seen hundreds of deer and flown beside several groups of geese in just one evening.”

Tom Miller has been a “thrill seeker all my life,” according to the 45-year-old Clinton resident.

“Motorcycles mainly, but the roads are getting busier and they are filled with drivers using phones and not paying attention. Flying is a great way to get the adrenaline flowing without having to worry about getting run over,” he said.

Miller added that he was terrified on his first flight. He felt his heart racing.

“Luckily, it was a short flight and I didn’t have long to think about how I was going to get that thing back on the ground. Now, I have made more than 30 flights. I hope the thrill never goes away,” he said.

Miller works for Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville as an instrumentation technician. His longest flight was about 90 minutes and his highest altitude was 2,500 feet.

“I try to fly as often as I can,” Miller said. “If the weather is good and the home chores are caught up, I will be in the air. I’ll be honest, the guys I fly with are all Type A personalities. They are not dreamers, they are doers.”

The youngest member of the group is Ben Garab, 21. Garab works in his family’s lawn care business.

Garab said he has been paramotoring with the group since the beginning of this year.

“My first flight was probably rather boring from the outside looking in,” he said. “Go up, make a few gentle turns, come down and make a nice soft landing. But, from my perspective, it was just the opposite. It was a scary experience but so incredibly worth it.”

Garab’s longest flight so far was two hours. He flew 27 miles all around Harriman, his hometown. His top altitude is 4,000 feet.

“Sweetwater field seems to be a favorite among the Moonshiners,” said Garab.

The friendship and common interests the fliers share are most important to everyone in the group.

Sweetwater resident Athena Caison has a closeup view of the fliers at her home on Browder Lake. She and her children enjoy watching the colorful sights.

‘We’ve probably seen them at least 10 times in the past two years,” Caison said. Titus Caison, 3, added that “They fly around our house with their half of the moon.”

“I like to see the paragliders because they are amazing,” said 7-year-old Aurora Caison. “I point at them and jump up and down and wave. I yell as loud as I can but I don’t think they can hear me.”

Five-year-old Bruce Caison said he wonders if spiders from the grass ever get in the wings and land on the fliers while they are in the air.

“No way I will fly, I am afraid of spiders,” he said.

Cody Bock is the certified instructor within the Moonshine Fliers and owner of Smoky MTN PPG training school. For information about the sport or the group, call Bock at 865-567-1318 or visit Smoky MTN Paramotor on Facebook.

Man charged with vehicular homicide after chase

What started out as an attempt to tell a car to slow down turned into a high speed chase that led to a deadly crash Aug. 10.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Corporal Brian Millsaps said it was around 12:40 a.m. when he saw a car doing 69 mph in a 55 mph zone. Millsaps said he flashed his red and blue lights to warn the car to slow down, but his radar showed the driver sped up.

Millsaps said he turned his car around and caught up to the car as it turned onto Highway 72 and headed toward Loudon. Millsaps turned on his light and siren but the car kept going.

Millsaps said he advised dispatch of what was happening and was about to terminate the chase for safety reasons when he saw the driver attempt to pass a car on a double line just as the lead car attempted to turn in Sweetwater/Vonore Road.

The two cars crashed and Millsaps said he attempted to assist the people in the lead vehicle and found a woman in the truck and a man who had been thrown from the vehicle and was lying in the road.

Millsaps then went to the car he had been chasing, a maroon BMW, and found it empty. Millsaps said he and others searched the area, but couldn’t find the driver, but an ID card belonging to Joey Michael Miller was found in the car.

Officers also found a large sum of currency in the truck along with a green plant material believed to be marijuana. Millsaps said a check on Miller showed he had a suspended driver’s license.

The people in the truck were taken to UT Medical Center for treatment. A man later died from his injuries and a woman had to have an arm amputated.

Millsaps said Miller’s car was towed by Martin’s Towing where the owner later informed Millsaps that Miller came by the towing company later that day asking about his car. The owner said Miller looked like he had been in a car crash.

Miller, 21, listed as being from Englewood, was picked up not long after that and charged with vehicular homicide, violation of probation, possession of marijuana for resale, driving on a suspended license second offense, felony evading arrest, two counts aggravated assault, leaving the scene of an accident with death injury and six traffic violations.

He is scheduled to be back in court Sept. 29.

Chota, MCS partnering to ensure safety as schools continue reopening process

Monroe County Schools and Chota Community Health Services (CCHS) have been cooperating to make sure the schools are safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CCHS provides funding to the Monroe County Board of Education for school nurses.

According to CCHS Chief Executive Officer Laura Harris, the partnership started in an attempt to provide school-based clinics in the Monroe County Schools.

“Those nurses provide services for special education, administer daily routine medicines and provide first aid among other school related duties,” Harris said. “In addition to those duties, they also serve as support staff for CCHS’s school-based clinics. CCHS has a team of nurse practitioners that provide a full range of primary care services to the students and staff.”

The nurse practitioners have a regular schedule at five of the 12 schools in the system and visit the other seven when needed.

The school-based clinics started in August of 2000 with a federal Rural Health Outreach Grant that lasted three and a half years.

“The Monroe County Board of Education decided to provide funding to keep the school-based clinic program going in 2004 and 2005. In December 2005, CCHS applied for the Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act grant to become a Federally Qualified Health Center,” noted Harris. “Upon receiving this grant, the school-based clinics became CCHS service sites and this is when the partnership started with the Monroe County Board of Education. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the school-based clinic program.”

Harris believes the partnership between the two entities is “very important.”

“Being able to provide healthcare services to the students and faculty in the school setting has allowed us to have a more direct impact on the health of the youth in our community,” Harris said. “We feel that the school-based clinic program is critical to the success of our students, and we’re proud to be able to support that endeavor.”

CCHS’ school based clinics have been used as a model in the State of Tennessee, according to Harris.

In 2010, the Tennessee Primary Care Association (TPCA) extended an invitation to CCHS to speak to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension.

She believes the partnership with Monroe County Schools helps progress the mission CCHS was founded on.

“Chota Community Health Services is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide high quality, affordable healthcare to the Monroe County community,” she stated. “Our partnership with the school system allows us to further this mission by increasing awareness and access to healthcare through our services on-site at the schools.”