A look back at 2003's top local news stories

December 31, 2003|HERB BROCK

2003 began with Danville officially going "moist" and is ending with Harrodsburg getting ready to follow suit. But while the bookends of the year may have had to do with booze, the legalized sale of alcoholic beverages in this area for the first time in more than half a century hasn't been the only story to make headlines as the last grains of sand are falling to the bottom of the 2003 hourglass. A lot has happened between the bookends:

Another drug was a major factor in another major story as marijuana combined with murder for an intriguing series of events in remote Gravel Switch.

The hunt for a Danville man accused of a Christmas Eve murder ended exactly two months later with his own death, by suicide.

A mother lost her life on Mother's Day as a tornado whipped through the Bohon area of Mercer County.

A Boyle County man lost his life after he had taken the lives of three family members.


As many as eight other area people were able to keep their lives as an alert factory security guard foiled a cop's alleged mass murder plan targeting them.

However, not all has been death and destruction in 2003. Some battles have been fought with forearms, not firearms, with ballots, not bullets.

Regarding the power of forearms, Danville and Boyle County powered their way to state football titles, and the community reinforced its claim to be Kentucky football's Title Town.

Regarding the power of ballots, a rally featuring most Democrat and Republican candidates for statewide office in the May primary reinforced the town's status as a political center as well.

As voted by the news and sports staffs of The Advocate-Messenger, here are the top 10 stories of 2003:

Michael Hays' marijuana farm uncovered

For more than a decade Michael Hays, and members of his Gravel Switch family, grew marijuana in Kentucky, Indiana and Wisconsin undetected, until police discovered a Danville man's body this spring on a farm he leased in Indiana.

In the months that followed, Michael Hays; his wife, Trena; and stepson, Derek Brummett; and seven others pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy charges and concealing the death of Rusty Marshall.

Federal and state agents raided the Hays house in Gravel Switch and seized it, the family vehicles, farm equipment, livestock and Michael Hays' prized draft horses. In total police figured the drug business had grossed $4 million.

William David Miller told police about the operation after he shot Michael Hays in the back of the head at an Indiana gas station. Miller; his daughter, Beverly Hall; and his son-in-law, Frank Hall; pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges. Miller's son, David Scott Miller, pleaded not guilty and was cleared of charges at a trial where many of those involved testified about the drug business and Marshall's burial.

Danville, Harrodsburg end dry spells

Alcohol was served in Danville for the first time since 1945. Several local restaurants received their liquor licenses, and a national chain restaurant, Applebee's, opened on the bypass. The restaurant had said it would come to Danville, if its local option election passed.

Then Harrodsburg voters passed a similar proposition for liquor-by-the-drink. Both cities require that restaurants seat 100 people and have 70 percent food sales.

The Danville Convention Center and Old Crow Inn had their applications for licenses denied by the city, and appealed the decision to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board.

As the year was ending, a precinct outside the city of Danville went "moist" as voters in the area surrounding Old Bridge golf course approved the sale of alcohol by the drink at the golf course clubhouse.

In the meantime, voters in Harrodsburg in November approved the sale of liquor by the drink by a mere 17-vote margin. City Commission approved a new law laying out the specifics restaurant owners must follow in order to get a license to sell liquor by the drink and at least two owners have fulfilled some of the legal requirements for a license purchase. The earliest a liquor license could be sold is Jan. 8 or 9, when the city officially becomes moist.

However, Carl Toth, William Toth, Mark Gray, August Properties LLC, and Mark Edwards and Lees Inc. filed suit to stop the sale of licenses, alleging that the vote did not follow the law governing local option elections.

Tornado kills woman in Mercer

On May 11, Mother's Day, Laura Cook lost her life in the tornado that struck northern Mercer County.

Cook, 29, of Bohon Road, sought shelter from the storm in her mobile home, along with her roommate, Mitzi McDaniel. McDaniel, then 35, was found on the bank of Salt River covered with debris. She was taken to the University of Kentucky and survived her injuries.

Cook's eight-year-old son, Jonathan Cook, was not at home when the storm struck.

Cook was not found in Salt River until 15 hours after the storm cut its deadly path. The cause of death was drowning. Eight others were injured, and many lost personal property.

Manhunt for accused murderer

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