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Detroit man charged with murder in wreck

A Detroit man has been charged with felony murder after he allegedly held a woman at gunpoint, causing her to wreck the car they were in, killing her.

It was on Sept. 8 when Sweetwater Police Officer Justin White said he was sent to a possible domestic assault in the Walmart parking lot on Highway 11.

When he arrived at the store, White said he was met by two witnesses who said the man and woman involved were leaving the parking lot on the south side of the building in a gray Honda Odyssey van.

White said he saw the van turning right onto Highway 11 and going toward Highway 68. White said he turned on his lights and siren and went after the van, but the driver didn’t stop.

At that time, White said he was informed by Det. Marty Kyle that a man, later identified as Steven Drayton, was in the passenger seat holding a gun on the female driver.

White said he chased the van to the Madisonville city limits where he terminated the chase and let Madisonville City Police take over.

Madisonville Police were unable to stop the van, but shortly thereafter it wrecked, crashing into another car at the intersection of Isbill Road and New Highway 68, just up from the Chota Health Center.

White said Madisonville Officer Chris Wilburn also noted he’d seen Dayton holding a gun on the driver while he was trying to deploy stop sticks.

White said the woman was ejected from the vehicle and later pronounced dead from her injuries. White described Drayton as being seriously injured.

White said two guns, a .22 caliber revolver and a Kel-Tec .380, were found at the scene of the wreck.

Drayton, 33, who has warrants for his arrest out of Michigan, is charged with first degree felony murder, especially aggravated kidnapping, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, evading arrest, assault and being a fugitive from justice.

Monroe County resident among five graduates of recovery court

A Monroe County resident was among the most recent group of 10th Judicial District Recovery Court graduates last Tuesday.

Recovery court is an approximately 18-month intensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people with substance abuse and/or mental health issues.

The graduation ceremony was hosted by Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Freiberg, who noted this ceremony was the first formal recovery court since March 9 due to COVID-19. Tiffany Turpin was the local graduate from the program.

“Today is a blessed day, it is graduation day, but I want to take a moment to recognize not only our graduates but everyone here for recovery court. We talk about this being a wholistic change change program about bettering our lives and how we cannot stop life events ... It is a matter of whether we are internally strong enough to withstand life’s adversities,” said Freiberg. “You all have gone through and overcome adversities during this pandemic ... I really think you all deserve a lot of praise for that.”

Participants in recovery court took part in virtual sessions instead of in-person groups due to the pandemic.

“You went from being in a location with your peers with a support system 21/2 hours a day, three days a week, to basically calling in two to three times a week for 10 to 15 minutes,” he noted. “All of that was adversity, all of that created hardship for everyone. I think the biggest blessing was reopening things back up from a treatment perspective.”

Freiberg stated the program holds a 22% failure rate.

“That is amazing. That means that 78% of the time, if you are here, then you are going to make it,” he exclaimed. “Of that 22% failure or elimination rate, 80% are people who have new arrests, new criminal charges or just don’t show up and those are things that are in your control.”

Freiberg also had praise specifically for Turpin.

“Tiffany Turpin had zero unexcused absences during her tenure here at recovery court,” said Freiberg.

“She did, however, struggle in the beginning with anxiety and shyness. She initially had a difficult time opening up in treatment and in court, eventually she learned that we all only wanted the best for her and was able to open up just a little bit and share more of herself with others.”

She was able to develop “strong friendships” within the group.

“She worked through some tough family issues and regained custody of her daughter,” he noted. “She is now living a healthy lifestyle with her daughter, family and friends. We are very proud, all of us as a team, of the woman that Tiffany has become and our door is always open and welcome to her.”

Her family was present during her graduation ceremony.

“I just want to say thank you to the judge and to the drug court team,” said Turpin. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Meg Gorman talks vote by mail, importance of November election

As the November presidential election draws nearer, an area candidate for national office spoke about the importance of voting and people having safe access to the polls.

Meg Gorman is running on the Democratic ticket against U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in District 3.

She spoke with The Advocate & Democrat recently to discuss various issues taking place in the country leading up to the November election.

Gorman said the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some concerns for her regarding the upcoming election.

“Having this pandemic hit when it did really was eye-opening for a lot of people,” she said. “It showed us where our current system is failing us.”

However, she added, there are ways to overcome those obstacles.

“This is an opportunity to come together as Americans, cast our votes and fight for a stronger country,” she noted. “That means a country and government that is going to work for the people instead of just for the people in power.”

She emphasized topics including “working families being able to make ends meet,” “people having the resources they need” and “children being able to receive quality education regardless of their zip code” as important as November approaches.

“All of these things will be on the line this fall,” she said. “It’s really big.”

She also expressed concerns over changes being made — that have since been halted until after the election — to the United States Postal Service (USPS).

“Having mail boxes removed, having mail sorting machines removed, there are big concerns there,” she said.

Gorman noted that vote by mail is a good option for people with the coronavirus looming over the election season.

“It has been there, it has been active, it has been great for those states,” she said. “I would love to see other states be able to do that as well. It is absolutely essential that people are able to vote … without putting themselves at risk.”

While the removal of mail sorting machines and little-used mailboxes has been ongoing for several years – prior to the current Trump administration in many cases — Gorman said the pandemic has changed things.

“It is different now, especially considering we have many Americans, especially veterans, who are reliant on their medications coming by mail and coming in a timely manner,” she said. “That is one of the most concerning pieces of this for me.”

Gorman said that during a time when being out in public can increase risk, doing things like voting and receiving items by mail should be encouraged.

“What we’re seeing with the post office is completely inappropriate,” she said. “There should not be removal of sorting machines or drop boxes. That should not be happening, especially when we’re looking at the country in a pandemic.”

She explained that instead of moving machines out, the focus should be on “rejuvenating our post office.”

“There are certain functions our post office can take on similar to what we’ve seen in other countries,” she said, citing basic banking and small loan services as examples. “We need to bolster the current services to make them more efficient and effective.”

As for voting by mail, Gorman said expanding it should be considered.

“Long term, there are other states that have been using vote by mail and it has gone smoothly for them,” she said. “This is a good opportunity for us to recognize this is a strong system, this works and this can work in various states.”

Gorman also gave her thoughts on the presidential portion of the November election, which pits current President Donald Trump against former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“I think we have someone in office right now who is doing damage to our democracy and who is doing damage to our country and it is under the guise of helping the little guy,” she said. “Between him and some of the legislation that has been written, many of those that claim to help small businesses and claim to help working class people actually don’t. Corporations are paying massive amounts of money to lobby and get legislation written in their favor.”

She argued that there is an easy way to tell that legislation that has been passed during Trump’s administration hasn’t been helping the working class and small businesses as claimed.

“If that was the case, we wouldn’t see massive corporations and industry giants supporting that legislation,” she said.

Gorman argued that change in Washington D.C. is important right now.

“I really want to see change in the country’s leadership,” she said. “Right now, it is lacking and it’s really doing a great deal of damage to our country. I look forward to having somebody in office who treats people with kindness, who treats people with respect and who will work hard for the people of this country.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: A series of stories were previously published based on an interview with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. They ran in the Aug. 26, Sept. 2 and Sept. 9 editions of The Advocate & Democrat.

Sweetwater now one of two Smart Start communities in East Tennessee

The City of Sweetwater is now a certified Smart Start Community recognized by the Tennessee Department of Economic Development.

The announcement was made last Tuesday during Sweetwater’s regular city commission meeting.

There are only two cities in East Tennessee that have been recognized as a Smart Start community, Cleveland and now Sweetwater.

“This actually feeds the retail section of economic development and the State of Tennessee provides training to community leaders and then coaches people on how to get businesses started,” said Sweetwater City Recorder Jessica Morgan. “We’re listed on the state’s website as Tennessee Smart Start community.”

She, along with another city employee, had undergone training by the state to be able to help people start a new business.

“Cleveland is the only other city in East Tennessee, there is one city in Middle Tennessee and then there is a handful in West Tennessee (that are certified),” she stated. “If someone is looking to start a business in East Tennessee, that is not industrial, then we are listed as one of the resources that they can come to. We can help get them started because we send them to get their business license and help them through all of the different stages that can be overwhelming.”

People who are interested in receiving help to start their own business can contact Sweetwater City Hall for more information.

“They can email us, contact us through Facebook, phone ... However they want to contact us is fine. We can point them to the right resources, so even if it is not something that the city offers or that the city has done we know who we can send them to get them started and streamlining the process of becoming a business,” she said.

Morgan noted that during the training, Sweetwater was specifically called out during by the instructor.

“The thing that we got really excited about is, the girl that was leading the training in Nashville said Sweetwater was always taking advantage of everything Tennessee ECD does,” she recalled. “We are super excited that she called us out and she is right. If the ECD is doing something, we want to be a part of it because they are a great state department ... If they are providing training or helping us get certified in some way then we want to do it.”