The year 2021, like most years, was a mixed bag. There was plenty of good news to report, which we try and do when appropriate, but, of course, there was no shortage of unpleasantness that appeared in the pages of this paper the last 12 months. Here’s a look at the top 10 Tipton County new stories of 2021:
1. Megasite finally lands a tenant
The idea of an industrial megasite in West Tennessee began to take form 15 years ago. In 2009, the state bought a 4,100-acre piece of land in Haywood County just off Interstate 40 (14 miles from Covington) and discussions and rumors continued for the next 12 years. Four years ago, Toyota/Mazda nearly committed to building a $1.6 billion car plant there, but eventually went elsewhere.
Finally, on Sept. 28, the 15-year plan finally came to fruition when it was announced that Ford Motor Company will build a $5.6 billion facility that will manufacture all-electric F-series trucks and batteries.
Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said 33,000 construction jobs with a nearly $2 billion payroll will be created during construction. Once it’s complete, hopefully by 2025, he said about 27,000 (direct and indirect) jobs will be created with an annual payroll of $1.8 billion. The gross domestic product is expected to be about $3.5 billion per year.It’s the largest investment ever made in Tennessee.
Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman has been a member of the Megasite Authority since it all began.
“It’s like a thousand-pound weight has been lifted off you,” Huffman said at Tuesday’s press conference. “You finally have something here. Everybody’s been going through what I call Megasite fatigue. Now is the payoff.”
He called it an “economic tsunami” that will sweep through West Tennessee and Tipton County and said middle class workers will be the main beneficiary of the plant.
“At the end of the day, this is going to be a real boon for working people, folks who are middle income whose income hasn’t really increased to the extent it has for people with higher incomes,” Huffman said. “This is going to be a real opportunity for working folks to do a lot better in the middle class. I’m delighted that it’s Ford Motor Company. The scale of this thing is just off the charts, more than we could have hoped for.”
Covington Mayor Justin Hanson said, “It’s a win, win, win. This is an unbelievable day, not just for West Tennessee, but the Mid-South. It says a lot when a company like Ford makes its largest investment in West Tennessee. This is the largest investment ever made in Tennessee and it’s 12, 15 miles from Covington.”
2. More COVID
Lots of people, if not most people, believed, or at least hoped, that COVID-19 would be a thing of the past when the calendar turned to 2021. Unfortunately, it’s still around.
You probably don’t want to hear any more about it because it’s still talked about everyday by most news outlets, so we’ll keep it brief.
The numbers were going down around September but the Omicron strain began to hit in December and cases are on the rise again.
In August, protesters marched outside of the Tipton County Board of Education building. One group was against the mask mandate while others were against students having the ability to opt out of the mandate.
3. Naifeh’s moves into old Kroger building
Before Judson and Dana Naifeh pulled the trigger in the summer of 2020 to purchase the former Kroger building on the north side of Covington, ideas for expanding their Cash Saver grocery store business in other markets were discussed. But Dana said her husband, who comes from a family that has been running grocery stores in Covington for more than a century, never really took any of those ideas seriously.“Judson loves people and he loves his heritage,” Dana said Wednesday afternoon during a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by about 300 people. “There were other grocery markets that we looked at and talked about investing in. Judson never considered any of those options. Covington is where it all started. That’s where his heart was and is. We not only wanted a store we could be proud of, but one Covington could be proud of.”
The store, which relocated from its longtime location just south of the new facility, opened in April. Visitors who frequented the store when it was a Kroger will notice huge upgrades immediately. It has all the bells and whistle of a modern grocery store while not forgetting about the Naifeh tradition in Covington. Photos of Judson’s family, along with those of his parents (Joe and Sandra) and grandfather (Oney), adorn the walls.
Judson got every emotionally when speaking about the project, particularly when thanking his parents and grandfather.
“Dana and I are just exhausted because we’ve put everything we have into this, but, dadgum, I think it looks pretty awesome to me,” Judson said, drawing applause from the large crowd. “My parents always told me you get out of a town what you put into a town.”
4. McDivitt case finally resolved
In June, one month after being found guilty on 21 counts of theft, including the Class A felony of theft over $250,000, by a Tipton County jury, former Covington car dealer Marty McDivitt received his sentence.
McDivitt was sentenced to 15 years in prison Tuesday by Judge Joseph Walker. He must serve 30 percent, or four and a half years, before being eligible for parole.
Twenty of the counts stemmed from McDivitt, who operated McDivitt Motors in Covington, presenting car titles to the Bank of Tipton as collateral to make draws on his revolving line of credit. The problem was that McDivitt did not own the cars. In many cases the cars had already been sold to customers, which led to many complaints being filed against McDivitt when title issues arose. Some customers also said McDivitt did not pay off loans on trade-ins, leaving customers with two car payments.
One month later, he pleaded guilty to 50 more charges Friday in Tipton County Circuit Court. Sentencing related to those 50 charges will run concurrent to the 15 years he was sentenced to in June.
“An automobile is one of the biggest purchases and sales many consumers make and those transactions should be transparent, lawful and as fair as possible,” District Attorney General Mark Davidson said. “With this defendant being sentenced to prison he is being held to account for his greed in contriving his fraudulent schemes to defraud the hardworking taxpayers in our community.”
5. Pancho Chumley retires
After 34 years in law enforcement, including the last 15 as Tipton County sheriff, Pancho Chumley announced he was retiring effective Aug. 31.
“I am blessed to have served with some of the most professional and dedicated men and women in law enforcement for the past 34 years,” Chumley wrote in a press release. “The great people of Tipton County have allowed me to serve as sheriff for the last 15 of those 34 years. My family and I are forever grateful for the honor and privilege to serve in that capacity. I am excited about the opportunity to utilize the education and experience gained over these past years as I undertake new and challenging endeavors.”
Chief Deputy Shannon Beasley, second in command, was appointed to take his place on Sept. 13 by the county commission. The position will be on the ballot for the Aug. 4, 2022 election.
Chumley began his law enforcement career at 19 and attended the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy later that same year. In 2000, he graduated from the 200th Session of the FBI National Academy, one of the most prestigious law enforcement leadership training programs in the world and host to many foreign law enforcement counterparts.
Throughout his years of service, Chumley rose through the ranks to the position of deputy chief. In 2006, he was elected as sheriff and ran, without opposition, for three more terms.
6. Wildly successful Munford band director retires
Barry Trobaugh, who served as the Munford High School band director for 27 years, announced his retirement in April.
Over the last decade alone, the Munford Marching Band has won a U.S. Bands National Championship (2011) and performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (2015) in New York City and the Tournament of Roses Parade (2019) in Pasadena, Calif. Qualifying for the those two parades is very difficult. Many bands have been trying for years to get there but have not made it.
“It’s a very short list,” Trobaugh said when asked how many other schools in the country have pulled off that impressive trifecta.
Trobaugh became Munford’s band director in August of 1994 after serving in that role at high schools in Arkansas and Kentucky. When he started, the band’s budget was less than $25,000 and it was sometimes difficult to find money to send the band to play at road football games.
Over the past decade, in years that did not include a trip to New York or California, the annual budget hovered around $200,000. Approximately $960,000 was raised for the trip to Pasadena alone.
While Trobaugh is clearly proud of the hundreds of trophies that reside in the Munford band room, the relationships forged with his students are what he cherishes.
“I’m proud of a million things,” Trobaugh said. “The room is full of hardware. People will walk in there and say, ‘Look at all the trophies.’ I’ll say, ‘The trophies aren’t here. My trophies are really the students.’”
In addition to the national title and the two cross-country trips, his bands, including marching, concert and jazz, received 26 straight superior ratings at the WTSBOA Marching Festival, four state titles, three Southern State titles and 20 grand championships at Bandmasters, Tennessee’s largest marching competition. The band also performed at the 1995 inauguration of Gov. Don Sundquist.
“One thing I want to strike home is that the success of our program has simply been the team. It has not been me, though I’ve had a part, but I’ve just had a part,” Trobaugh said. “It’s been our team of instructors, an amazing community and incredible young adults. They are the hardest working people I know … If I take credit for anything, I’ll take credit for being able to develop synergy where other really talented people, throughout the community and within the school, did what they did so well and we just fed off of each other’s positives. It’s that simple.”
7. Covington shooting claims one life and linked to Young Dolph murder
At approximately 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 12, according to Covington police, three vehicles stopped at the stop sign at South College and Church streets, next to First United Methodist Church. The first vehicle turned on Church and the third vehicle, a white coupe, swerved next to the second vehicle and opened fire.
Approximately 40 rounds were fired from an assault rifle into the vehicle occupied by Darnisha Wynn McLeod and her boyfriend’s mother, Anita Wilson. Darnisha’s son, dynamic junior linebacker A.C. Mason, and another teenager were in the first vehicle. Wilson later died from her injuries.
Police said the white coupe traveled north on College Street, passed city hall, turned on South Munford and circled back down South College to drive back by the scene.
About a week later Covington police confirmed that the Mercedes Benz coupe used in the Wilson murder was believed to be the same car used in the murder of rapper Young Dolph in South Memphis.
Both murders are still unsolved.
8. McDaniel charged with second-degree murder
It’s clear that Brighton man Cole McDaniel shot and killed Stephanie Brown on May 20, but who the aggressor was remains unclear.
During a preliminary hearing in August, Crystal Brown, Stephanie’s mother, and Kaitlyn McCommon, McDaniel’s fiancé, gave different accounts of the incident.
Brown told the court she and her daughter went to Cole and Kaitlyn’s home on Gladman Road in Brighton to drop clothes off for Kaitlyn’s son and, perhaps, see the toddler again. The toddler is the grandson of Stephanie’s longtime partner and, because she’s cared for him since he was born, she was considered his grandmother.
The relationship between Kaitlyn and Cole and Stephanie’s family was strained, and it wasn’t made clear why in court, but the falling out involved frustrations related to Cole’s budding relationship with the child. Kaitlyn said the other family wasn’t happy the child had started called Cole “Daddy.”
“She degraded him as a father and made him feel bad about himself,” Kaitlyn testified.
It’d been about a month since Stephanie had seen the little boy and Crystal said she missed him.
“We’d gone to take the clothes and beg to see the grandbaby,” she said.
They arrived at the home unannounced and uninvited, just as Kaitlyn, Cole and the baby were leaving for dinner. Kaitlyn said Stephanie was cussing Cole out saying, she didn’t owe him anything, and the two were yelling over each other. She said Stephanie believed Cole was controlling her and, thus, the baby’s relationship with his biological father’s family.
Crystal said Stephanie, who was estimated to be approximately 5’8” and 180 pounds, had her driver’s side door open and was getting into the vehicle when Cole – a 22-year-old firefighter trained in Tae Kwon Do, who is over 6’ tall and more than 200 pounds – pushed her to get her attention, then shot her three times when she turned around.
Kaitlyn testified Cole was getting into the Silverado when Stephanie pushed him – “I was afraid she was going to attack him,” she said – then he shot her at a very close range.
9. Fifteen-year-old Anthony Whiteman killed riding bike
Covington police are still looking for the driver of a hit-and-run accident Sept. 30 that killed 15-year-old Anthony Whiteman.
Captain Jack Howell said first responders were dispatched to Highway 51 near Garland Avenue at 8:20 p.m. The caller said they’d seen what looked like sparks coming from an SUV driving northbound.
When they arrived on scene they found Whiteman, unconscious.
Howell said there was a photo taken of Anthony riding a chopper-style bike northbound in the left lane of Hwy. 51, near Sherrod, a minute or two before the 911 call came in.
According to Whiteman’s family, Anthony had biked up to Walmart with his best friend, Nikolas. At about 8 p.m. he called his mother and told her he had left Nikolas’s father’s house and was on his way home. The trip was a little over three miles, and it was a trip Anthony had made countless times on his custom bicycle, but he never made it back.
Christina Fretz, Anthony’s aunt, said the teenager was known for helping people.
“He would go to community events and if something needed fixing, you know, he would fix it. He would fix lawnmowers or somebody’s bicycles … He’s always looking for a way to help people. He didn’t have to know you – if he saw you needed help he was going to help you.”
10. Joey Guy killed by Donald Ray Jones
Joey Guy, a former boxer and father of four, was shot and killed Feb. 27 while inside a house he owned. Donald Ray Jones shot him, but 10 months later the matter is still under investigation and Jones has not been arrested or charged.
At the time, the sheriff’s office called Jones a tenant because he lived in the weathered blue home Joey owned at the end of Gin House Lake Road, across from his own home, but there were conflicting reports from friends and family members on the agency’s public Facebook post.
Some said Guy allowed Jones to live in the home and make repairs. Some said Jones was making repairs and moved in when Joey was out of state. Wayne Guy, Joey’s brother, said Don was trespassing.
Detectives confirmed at the time there was an ongoing civil dispute between Jones and Guy, who lived in the house next door. Donnie Jones, who lived at the house with his father, reported on the sheriff’s Facebook post that deputies had been called several times and “were at the house where we had legal residence multiple times this week The sheriff told us, and Joey, that we had legal rights to be in that home. We were not trespassing on that property. The sheriffs were shown proof of what Joey and Don have agreed upon in regards to us living there. Property was stolen out from our house on multiple occasions from Joey breaking and entering that house.”
Rebecca Byrd, who said she considered both Don and Joey her uncles, said “once Don began doing criminal activity he was asked to leave, then he became a squatter. But, initially no, Joey was helping out a buddy who felt entitled.”
Amber Means, the mother of Joey’s youngest child, said she was talking to Joey the whole night and Joey was “completely unaware” anyone was at the home Don had been occupying.
“He did not kick any door in. He has the key,” she commented. “He was going to check damages left since they were supposedly gone.”
She accused Don of lying in wait and shooting Joey “in cold blood.”
Echo Day contributed to this story.