White County and the rest of Arkansas are being visited by the North Pole this week, according to a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.
The reports of 5 to 6 inches of snow in Searcy are a product of the cold air that “literally came from the North Pole, the North Pole,” Dylan Cooper said.
“It kind of broke loose out of Canada, and you can imagine the Rocky Mountains being the wall or the barrier on the west, and basically the cold air rode down through the northern plains-central plains and right on here to the southern plains,” Cooper said.
“Winter, we are having it all in the same week. This is the first of two storms we are expecting this week.”
He said the snow levels in Searcy were reported Monday morning, and there was more snow in the afternoon, so he said it could have ended up a half-inch more or even closer to 2 inches in some places.
According to Cooper, what makes this weather event interesting is that “typically in Arkansas, if we get a winter storm it is usually a pretty quick affair. You get cold air in, precipitation and then we usually start warming up pretty soon after the storm.”
“What makes this a little bit different is that this is a very cold Arctic air mass. It is not really going to be moving a whole lot this week,” he said. “So we are dealing with not record cold, but we are getting close in some places and that is going to keep whatever has fallen Monday on the grounds. It is not going to melt. It may compact down a little bit but the snow is not going to be going anywhere.”
Cooper said the coldest air was expected overnight Monday into Tuesday morning.
“For you guys up in White County, your range for temperatures overnight will be anything from 2 above to 2 below zero and that would be the actual air temperature. Some folks could see windchills from minus-5 to minus-10.”
The recorded record low for Searcy is 20 below zero in January 1918. The one-day record for snowfall in Searcy is 11 inches in January 1918. The two-day record for the city was set in February 1921, 15 inches, which also set the five-day maximum.
Cooper said he believes that last time Arkansas had a cold weather outbreak of this magnitude was back in the 1980s. “It has been a good long time before we have seen something like this.” Born in 1987, Cooper said in his lifetime, he doesn’t remember anything like this as far as the weather this week.
“It’s kind of double-edged sword,” he said. “As much as you can enjoy the winter weather, it is very hazardous. The message we have been pushing out is that if you have plants or pets that are outside, they will not survive this level of cold. Folks need to check on their people to make sure their neighbors and folks are all right.
“As long as people play it smart and support one another, we will get through it, but again seeing something of this magnitude while it is exciting as meteorologists, you also have to consider the impacts it has on people and that does concern us. It worries us to see that people are subject to something like this and if they are not prepared, they are probably going to have a rough time.”
Cooper said although he can’t predict if Arkansas will have “another big weather event” this winter, “between what we have experienced Sunday into Monday and what we have got coming with this next system, I would be very hard pressed to think we are going to top it as we transition into the warmer months.”
Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne said residents need to keep in mind how dangerous this weather can be.
“If it is not an emergency, don’t get out,” Osborne said. “We are doing the best we can to clean off the main thoroughfares and salt and sand them. There is a whole lot of snow and there is really no way to prepare for that.”
Pangburn Mayor Mike Marsh said Monday afternoon that he checked with the city’s police chief and said “all of our side streets are snow-covered. I heard the highway department has made it down and they are working on clearing Main Street. My main thing is people just need to stay home. Get out if you have to but stay home [otherwise]. If you have an emergency call 911, our police and fire will respond.”
Marsh said he was getting out on foot to check fire stations and other places in Pangburn.
Bald Knob Mayor Barth Grayson said the winter weather is “coming from tornado alley from Austin, Texas, straight shot to Bald Knob, Ark., into Jonesboro.” Because of it, “our trash pickup they will try to resume Saturday for all that they can do, but they will have to resume regular pickup next week; that is what is planned. Residents will just have to keep it [trash] in extra bag and they will be ok to be put out next week. That is real important for everybody, everywhere.
“Other than on the main roads, the snow is really too deep for a lot of cars that are so close to the ground,” he said. “They will get clogged up.”
White County Sheriff Phillip Miller on Monday afternoon said that he had “not heard of any particular roads” that were trouble spots.
“They are all covered with snow and slow going,” Miller said. “We haven’t had near the traffic [that there usually is], places that are real bad as far as piled up vehicles.”
Shelby Williams, a dispatcher for Towmater Towing Service and O’Dell Towing in Searcy, said since the ice came early Thursday morning, they have responded to 62 calls in Searcy and have had to turn down 100 to 200 calls. She said most of the calls have been “winch outs,” where people have to have their vehicles pulled out of ditches, “right and left.”
Williams said ordinarily they take calls from all over White County but this time because of call volume in Searcy, they have been confined to servicing the Searcy area.
Williams said they have had calls from residents in their driveways who were stuck and couldn’t get out. “We would hook up to the bottom of their vehicle and pretty much yank it out on to a flat surface.”
Other type calls, Williams said, concerned residents running out of gas. “We have done our best to get there as soon as possible and people have been much appreciative of it.”
School districts in the county planned to have closed campusesTuesday and use remote learning, with Pangburn, Rose Bud and Riverview already announcing that they also will be closed Wednesday.
Harding University had a snow day Monday and the campus planned to close again. Tuesday
The oldest daughter of a Higginson police officer killed in the line of duty in 1997 feels that a television show being aired about his murder “did a very good job” of telling his story.
Discovery Plus is now featuring the story of Danny Longstreet in an episode titled “Officer Down” on “Murder in the Heartland.” The segment also will air on Investigation Discovery on March 2. Longstreet was shot three times in his patrol car on March 14, 1997.
Longstreet’s oldest daughter, Danyell Longstreet, sat down with The Daily Citizen to talk about her dad, reflect on his passing and talk about the show.
“They presented Daddy really well and told his story like it happened, almost 24 years ago,” Danyell Longstreet said. “I was 13 at the time and have two other sisters, Thea was 11 and Addie was 9.”
Longstreet said there was never a trial for those involved in her dad’s murder. “They did the plea deal and they pled guilty.”
“I think it played out the way it should of. They were guilty,” she said. “The investigators did a really good job of finding out what happened and collecting information and stuff, so I think they did an overall great job.”
Longstreet said her reason for agreeing to the show was because of how police officers are being treated or viewed around the country now.
“My dad would be heartbroken to see all of it to be honest with you,” she said. “When they contacted me to do this show, the reason I thought about doing it was that I wanted that people that watched it to understand that police officers are human. They have families they want to go home to.
“When they take that oath, they knew that meant they could pay the ultimate price and they still put on that uniform to serve and protect our communities. They do their job, but they want to be able to go home and watch their kids grow up.”
Looking back at how her dad was when she was growing up, Longstreet said that he was “a jokester. He loved to play pranks on us girls.”
“He was very fun but he was very stern,” she said. “He taught us a lot of life lessons because he was in the Army. He served for 20 years and retired. He went to [Operation] Desert Storm. He loved his country very much and he loved his family.”
Longstreet said she is part of the Arkansas Cops Chapter that supports families of fallen police officers.
“We help recent fallen officers’ families [go] to Washington, D.C. to see the wall [of fallen officers] during police week [in May], and they do have retreats for adult children,” Longstreet said. “I still haven’t been to one yet because I am still healing. I went to the Washington wall in that May after Daddy passed away in March. There is a wall at the Arkansas state Capitol and then there’s one at the White County Sheriff’s Department in Searcy. I have been to all of them.
“The only one I have not gotten the chance to go to is in Florida. My grandma and my Papa Longstreet, several years before Papa got sick, they went down there and saw it. A few of the girls who have lost their parents [children of fallen police officers] have gone and said it is very beautiful.”
Longstreet lives in Benton and she said the police officers there are very nice and come over to her house during Police Memorial Week every year in May just to check on her and her family.
“They check on us and like to talk about Dad and see his flag from the funeral,” she said. “They check in quite often with us so that’s amazing.”
Chaplain David Copeland was mentioned by Longstreet for having shown her a lot of compassion. “I love that man. He has been like a second daddy to us through all of this.
“When I found out about the show, I felt like I needed to read the case files and get myself prepared for it. It was so nice because Mr. David and Gail Stokes [of the White County Sheriff’s Office] sat with me in the conference room and I went through the case file and I saw the crime scene photos, because I was 13 at the time so I had never seen any of that and it was hard.”
Higginson, according to Longstreet, has always been very supportive to her family. “Daddy was very loved.”
Looking back on her photos, she said she had one of her dad in his Higginson police uniform and one in his Searcy police uniform. “He worked for Searcy for about two years.”
“The one thing I remember about reading The Daily Citizen during that time was the day of the funeral. You all did such a wonderful job with Daddy’s story,” she said. “I remember that day because it was like time stood still. People were getting out of their cars. There were people coming out of their businesses. Daddy was so respected by Searcy and the community that day.
“The funeral was at Searcy. I want to say Missionary Baptist Church is where it was held. There were hundreds of police officers from all over the state. There wasn’t enough room for people so they had to take a TV monitor outside so the officers who were standing out there could see. At 13, I didn’t understand it but now as a grown woman I do.”
After her father was killed, Longstreet said her family moved to Heber Springs and she went to school there.
Concerning the film crew from Investigation Discovery, Longstreet said “they weren’t use to us country folk, that was for sure. California people are not like this. They were very nice and really did a great job with the episode.”
The episode featuring Officer Danny Longstreet is under Season 3 for those streaming from the Discovery Plus App.
Danny Longstreet lived in Searcy and was found shot multiple time in his patrol car by convenience store owner Jerry Riley and his wife, Hazel. The location was in the 300 block of Walker Road. At the time of his death, Longstreet was 39.
Information from the case shows that a person in a nearby residence heard three gunshots at 5:20 a.m. March 14. Longstreet was reportedly found seated in the driver’s seat of his car with the passenger window “shot out.” The pronouncement of Longstreet’s death was reportedly at 6:15 a.m.
Higginson Mayor Randell Homsley was a Higginson police officer at the time and wrote in his report that he was on the way to take his wife to work and heard on his portable police radio the White County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher calling for any state unit in the Higginson area. He was informed that an officer was down at the four-way stop of Walker Road and Arkansas Highway 11.
In his report, Homsley said when he arrived at Longstreet’s police unit, there were two individuals standing at the driver’s side of the vehicle with the door open. As he moved around to the driver’s door, one of the individuals, Hazel Riley, had Longstreet’s head in her hands. Homsley in his report said he asked the individual to back away as he checked for vital signs. He found none.
He then radioed dispatch to send the ambulance service Pro-Med and was advised Pro-Med was already en route. Homsley said he continued life support on Longstreet’s body until Pro-Med arrived. Pro-Med, a state and a county unit arrived on scene and Homsley assumed the duty of keeping individuals away from the crime scene.
According to a news release, White County deputies along with officers of the Arkansas State Police and the Higginson Police Department arrested a 17-year-old Searcy youth March 17 and intended to file formal charges of capital murder against the youth March 18. Officers also intended to charge his 18-year-old wife with hindering apprehension and set a bond of $20,000 for her. Formal charges for her were scheduled for March 18.
Homsley said Timothy Lee Askins was the person who shot Longstreet and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Askins is being housed in the Cummins Unit in Grady.
Jess Fulgham, the 17-year-old who took Askins to the scene, was charged with capital murder and Homsley said he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Kristie Fulgham was charged with hindering apprehension and pleaded guilty, serving about six years in prison.
Homsley said Kristie Fulgham was pregnant at the time of the crime and didn’t serve much time at all.
He explained the reason for the shooting was that “it was one of those things that if Askins silenced Officer Longstreet, he couldn’t testify against him in a case Askins was involved in.
“Me and Danny both had arrested him [Askins] on several occasions for different things. I was actually the one who went and served the warrant that Danny did, an affidavit warrant that didn’t come out for a while, and I went and served in on Timothy.”
Homsley is featured in the episode, talking about Danny Longstreet. Others featured include then Higginson Police Chief Tom Bird, residents Billy Hinson and Becky Ramsey, retired Arkansas State Police investigator J.R. Howard and former White County Sheriff Jess Odom.
Danyell Longstreet said she still has every newspaper clipping from the week of her dad’s passing. “I still read them to this day. My daughter, Hannah, and I look at them.”
About her 11-year-old daughter, her dad’s first grandchild, Longstreet said “he would have loved her.”
A Searcy nonprofit that has been around since 2011 is keeping a dozen homeless warm during the cold, icy and snowy conditions.
“We currently have 12 people, six of whom we brought in from the cold,” said Mike Phifer, who took over running Mission Machine in 2014 with Josh Stewart and others. “We haven’t had this weather probably in a decade.”
“We actually have a new container now. It has a shower and bathrooms in it and laundry. We have heaters out there [at Mission Machine’s camp on the Arkansas Highway 13 bypass]. We can put some folks at the container and put some folks at our North Main location, which we call the clinic. It’s Christian Health Ministries but we got a men and women’s trailer out there that we keep elderly people in.”
Mission Machine also loaded up on groceries, Phifer said. There were some homeless staying in tents near that Walmart Supercenter that the nonprofit helped, he noted.
Phifer said Mission Machine usually works with the United Methodist Church to provide a warming center, but did not want to put the volunteers at risk this time because of the weather.
“Safety is first and we don’t want our volunteers getting hurt,” he said.
When the roads were clear Sunday, Phifer said, Mission Machine went out to look for those who needed help staying warm.
“We got a lot of calls about a guy staying under the overpass by the old Walmart Distribution Center,” he said. “We went out and checked and he wasn’t there. We had a police officer tell us about it and rechecked and he still wasn’t there.”
When it comes to age groups of those who are out in the cold looking for warmth, Phifer said “it’s a cross section.” He said those who regularly panhandle will go back to their camp when it warms up.
Residents have donated items to keep those at the camp warm. Phifer said these included toboggans and blankets.
Those who volunteer for Mission Machine are “great-hearted people,” Phifer said. “We’ve got a great board, people who just really care about humanity. I myself was homeless at one time and I feel that God has really turned my life around.”
While many businesses struggled or even closed in 2020 because of COVID-19, the Searcy Municipal Airport had its “best year financially for the city of Searcy,” according to Searcy Airport Commission Chairman Matt House.
The total revenue for the airport in 2020 was $643,009 and the total expenses were $556,857, making the combined gross profit for the airport $86,141. However, House said while that was good, something that governmental accounting does not take into account is any receivables on the books.
“The city doesn’t accrue those things,” House said earlier this month. “Our cash carryover, Roger [Pearson, the airport manager] ended the year with $132,976 in the bank in our airport checking account. We have fuel inventory that we carried over of $43,436.” House said in small items inventory there is $1,500 and the airport had $10,852 in accounts receivable owed that were expected to be received in the next 30 days.
“When you take our gross profit of $86,141 and you add those carryover items to it, we had a very profitable year at $274,905,” he said. “You can look back at our previous years, there were years that we were a cost to the city. There were some years we made a profit like last year, but we have never been this successful.”
According to House, even if you take out the $69,000 of federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act money that the airport received, it still has the airport at an over $200,000 profitability mark.
“There are very few city departments that can say that they made that kind of money for the city of Searcy,” House said. “We couldn’t do without the city and their partnership and their matching on the grants in what we do.
He said hopefully someday the airport may be at a point where it could possibly fund its own grants. “That would be our goal,” House said.
Pearson said he didn’t know what kind of year the airport would have because of COVID-19. “We didn’t spend like we normally do as far as maintenance and repairs and stuff like that.”
He also mentioned a grant that was received for emergency lighting, which allowed the airport to keep its lighting fixed throughout the year. “So I have zero expenditures. Between our ability to get some parts from the Stuttgart Airport and to utilize that grant, it really helped us out toward our cost. It may not happen next year [in 2021].”
Pearson said he has been slowly but surely getting all the LED lights replaced, and while the runway lights have not been replaced, everything else has been replaced.
He also mentioned that fuel prices had been low and stayed steady.
“The south-central sales have maintained pretty well. We haven’t had to adjust fuel,” Pearson said. “You are always trying to sell it for what you can sell it for without hurting people yet still trying to do good. This year, it is already happening; it [the price of fuel] is already going up, so we try to absorb that difference so they [those who use the airport] aren’t constantly in shock.”