2012-02-22 / News

Fiscal court alters coal tax list

By WILLIAM FARLEY

The Letcher Fiscal Court voted this week to remove a $ 100,000 allotment to Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital and a $300,000 allotment to the Letcher County Recreation Center from a “coal severance tax priority list” that will be presented to the Kentucky General Assembly.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming asked that WARH’s request for $100,000 to help pay for indigent care be taken off the list, while District Two Magistrate Terry Adams called for the removal of a $300,000 insurance fund for the recreation center.

Fleming told his fellow court members he was disgusted by ARH’s billing practices, saying the Lexington based hospital chain affects poor people adversely and damages people’s credit by turning accounts over for collection before bills have even reached the individual who received care. Fleming said ARH filed a negative credit report on him that damaged his credit rating before he had ever received a bill for services.

“The health care is good but in the business end, they don’t care who they screw over,” said Fleming. “We have poor people harassed to death. I’m sick of ARH screwing over people. Every time they come here wanting money they say they are going to do better. I’m against ARH getting another dime.”

The court also voted to remove the request for $300,000 for funding for the recreation center from the severance tax priority list and to add it to the Letcher County Road and Sanitation Fund after Adams, who has consistently voted against any funding for the center since his election, questioned why the $300,000 was on the list in addition to another $1.2 million for debt service and other purposes. Judge/Executive Jim Ward said the money was for operating funds and added that the center, which opened in November, is still not complete.

Fleming said that from all indications the recreation center is doing well and should be able to operate with its current income. Ward said the $300,000 was to ensure the center doesn’t have to dip into county funds if it hits a bad spell.

“I think that $300,000 shouldn’t be designated for the center,” said Adams. “I’d rather see that money go to Road and Sanitation for blacktop.”

Both Fleming and District Four Magistrate Keith Adams also questioned funding for the Letcher County Domestic Violence Center in downtown Whitesburg. Each said they have heard unsettling reports about the center and questioned the length of residence for those who are housed there.

District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson said domestic violence remains prevalent in the county, and Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton and Sheriff Danny Webb agreed.

Webb told the court his deputies routinely answer several domestic violence calls each day and Hatton said his office is continually engaged with the problem. Adams said he was not in favor of giving the center the previously allocated amount of $100,000, but the court voted 3-3 to cut the funding, meaning that it remains in place. Fleming said he hopes a representative of the center will attend a court meeting in the near future to explain how the center is being operated.

Fleming said he has deep sympathy for victims of domestic violence, but is disturbed by reports he has heard from reliable sources who have told him that men come and go from the facility at will through a back door that is kept propped open much of the time.

Ward cautioned the court not to expect the list being submitted to the General Assembly to look the same when it is returned to the county. He said that legislators also have projects they want to see accomplished and that each legislator will also have requests for severance money from the cities.

The Coal Severance Tax Priority List for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014 as presented by the fiscal court to the state legislature is:

• Letcher County Recre- he recognized that it was Mark. So he goes down and he says ‘Mark, buddy what are you doing looking in my vehicles and poking around this time of night?’”

Craft said Sturgill pulled his .45-caliber handgun and pointed it directly into Collier’s face.

“Todd says ‘Let’s not do this, Mark. Let’s not have this confrontation,’” said Craft. “So apparently they talked back and forth for some little bit and Mr. Sturgill re-holstered his gun. Not only did he have a gun, but he had another semi-automatic pistol in his pocket. They talked back and forth.

“In all of this excitement I assume the dog gets worked up and he bit Todd,” Craft continued.

Jenkins Patrolman Jim Stephens, who is also an emergency medical technician, testified that he didn’t see any evidence of a dog bite on Collier’s leg at the crime scene.

“ Totally contrary to the picture evidence the detective took four hours later,” said Craft, referring to a photograph Detective Sandlin took when he interviewed Collier at Jenkins City Hall.

“ There was obviously a puncture wound right in that bruise,” said Craft. “Now what does a dog bite do to you? It bruises you because their jaws are so powerful.”

Both Craft and Banks agree that Collier kicked Sturgill’s dog. Craft said the reason Collier kicked the dog was because he had just been bitten. Banks said Collier kicked the dog to provoke Sturgill so that Collier would have a reason to shoot Sturgill.

“ The best way I know to get your attention is to kick your dog,” said Banks. “What is your initial reaction? You are going to pull back and worry about (the dog). And in that process, boom!”

Craft said Sturgill went for the gun in his holster just after Collier kicked the dog. He said that is why Collier quickly pulled his smaller Derringer out of his pocket and shot Sturgill. Craft said the dog wrapped its leash around Sturgill and kept him from being able to get his gun out of the holster.

“ That’s probably why Todd is sitting here today,” said Craft. “It wasn’t easy to get out. So Todd seeing this reaches in his pocket, obviously very excitedly pulls out his Derringer, and unfortunately he shoots Mark. Now he could have shot him twice because that is how many bullets he had in his gun. But the dog was also running loose at this point. So at that point he uses the second bullet on the dog. All of which was done in self protection.”

Banks said gunpowder residue was detected on the inside palms of Sturgill’s hands, which he said indicated that Sturgill was holding his hands up at Collier as a defensive mechanism. Craft said the gunpowder residue was detected on Sturgill’s hands because Sturgill had handled his gun earlier in the confrontation and gunpowder residue can be found on a gun that had been previously fired.

No gunpowder residue was found on Collier’s hands. Banks said that was because Collier’s neighbor, Garry Haley, gave him a damp towel after the shooting.

Dr. John Hunsaker, associate chief medical examiner of Kentucky, testified that “a fairly low level” of Valium was detected in Sturgill’s system. Sturgill also had a blood alcohol level of 0.079. The legal limit is 0.08. Hunsaker said Valium, an anti-anxiety drug, should not be taken while consuming alcohol.

“Both drugs have a sedative effect on the body,” said Hunsaker.

Craft told the jury that alcohol and Valium would affect someone who was five feet tall and weighed about 138.

“As Dr. Hunsaker told you with that condition that he was in I wouldn’t want to be in a vehicle with him. He said that,” said Craft.

Banks told the jury that alcohol affects people differently.

“ Dr. Hunsaker said no two people handle alcohol the same,” said Banks. “We have no evidence whatsoever that Mark was under the influence. The wife said she didn’t notice anything.”

Sturgill’s wife, Melissa Sturgill, testified that she wasn’t aware that her husband had been taking Valium and didn’t know if he had a prescription for the medication. She also testifi ed that she never saw him drink alcohol that night.

Craft questioned why Mark Sturgill walked the dog up the hill by Collier’s house instead of in front of the Sturgills’ house.

“That is the path he always took,” said Melissa Sturgill.

A 16-year-old neighbor testified that she didn’t know Mark Sturgill even had a dog.

Mark Sturgill, who worked as a field technician for Kentucky Educational Television, found the stray dog at a transformer site on Buffalo Mountain in Hazard and began feeding it. Melissa Sturgill testified that because her husband couldn’t get his vehicle up the steep Perry County road during inclement weather to feed Jake, he asked his wife if he could bring the dog to their home in Jenkins. She said the dog first stayed on the porch or their home but eventually made his way inside the house where he slept at the foot of their bed.

Mrs. Sturgill testified that on the night of Feb. 25, 2010, the dog came back home bleeding after she and her husband let it out to use the bathroom. She said a neighbor, Garry Haley, confessed to shooting the dog with buckshot because two dogs were attacking Collier’s cat on Haley’s property.

Jenkins Police Chief Adam Swindall testified that he responded to the call about the dog being shot with buckshot and could not determine what killed the cat. Swindall told the jury he was at the Sturgill home trying to help the Sturgills find a veterinarian for Jake when Collier called the Sturgills. Swindall testified that during the telephone conversation, Collier told Swindall he would shoot Mark Sturgill and the dog if they got back around him.

Craft said Swindall and Mark Sturgill were best friends and that the threat never happened.

Banks told the jury that

Mark Sturgill filed a charge of animal cruelty against Haley, but eventually decided to drop the case.

Melissa Sturgill also testified that her husband took the dog back to Buffalo Mountain for about a week until co- worker Dave Smith, who lived in Stanford, agreed to take care of the dog to keep it safe. His wife, Candy Smith, owned an in home daycare and the dog was around small children. Dave and Candy Smith both testified that they never had any problems with the dog. Banks said that Collier and Haley called police complaining about a pit bull running loose in the neighborhood while the dog was with the Smiths.

After Smith was laid off from his KET job in September 2010, Mark Sturgill brought the dog back to Letcher County.

“It’s like two long lost buddies,” said Banks.

Mrs. Sturgill testified that her husband took the dog to work with him each day and wouldn’t allow it to go outside alone.

Patrolman Stephens testified that he was also a friend with Mark Sturgill, who was a member of the Jenkins Volunteer Fire Department. Stephens said the two had shot guns together and that he had once fired the gun that was found in Mark Sturgill’s holster.

Banks and Craft disagreed on whether the long coat Mark Sturgill was wearing was zipped or unzipped at the time of the shooting. The holster and gun were attached to Sturgill’s belt located underneath his coat.

Banks tried to prove that the dog was a gentle family pet and Craft said the dog was wearing a choker chain and collar.

“ Remember this is the dog that is gentle and doesn’t bother anybody or anything,” said Craft. “ You remember Mrs. Sturgill’s testimony that Mark loved that dog better than life. That is a direct quote.”

Craft expressed aggravation that police did not have a swab taken of the wound on Collier’s leg tested at the state police crime lab.

“ Why didn’t you have that examined?” Craft asked while cross-examining Detective Sandlin. “Well, I called the lab and they said we can’t tell you if it was a dog or not we can just tell you if it was an animal. What else do you want to know?”

Samples of blood found on the road at the crime scene weren’t tested either.

“Did you have that examined detective? No,” said Craft. “Why? I just assumed it was from Mark Sturgill. Well why take the thing to start with if you aren’t going to have it examined? Why even bother to go to that length? So there are two major (mistakes). Now I realize this isn’t CSI.”

Collier and Sturgill both had permits to carry concealed weapons. Mrs. Sturgill testified that her husband was a gun enthusiast and never left the house without a weapon. Based on testimony during the trial, Collier obtained his permit to carry a concealed weapon after his cat had been killed.

Melissa Sturgill also took the stand during the penalty phase of the trial and told the jury how her life, as well as the lives of her two teen-aged sons, have changed since her husband was killed.

“I cannot put into words the unbearable pain and suffering you have brought to my family,” she told Collier. “I would give my life to take away my children’s pain. The pain is not only emotional, it is physical and financial. I struggle to function daily, but I force myself to go to work, just so I can pay my bills and maintain health insurance on my children.”

Melissa Sturgill said one of her sons is so disturbed by the shooting death of his father he wants to wear a bulletproof vest around their home.

“I too worry about the possibility of you retaliating against us and am contemplating moving from the place I have called home all my life,” said Mrs. Sturgill. “I do not want to move, but I would in order to keep my children safe.”

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