2 months ago

State park rangers on duty in times of calm and peril

Thankfully, with a few exceptions, Alabama State Parks remain open during the COVID-19 restrictions.

And as diligent as always, our park rangers are on duty to deal with any situation that might arise with everything from a welcoming wave and helpful hand to rescuing park visitors in peril.

That peril was particularly apparent last December when a line of storms started moving through north Alabama.

Joe Wheeler State Park Ranger Ryan Robertson was on patrol on December 16, 2019, while Ranger David Barr had the day off, or so he thought.

“That afternoon, we had some pretty volatile weather,” Barr said. “Ryan was running duty, and I stopped him at the boat ramp and told him I would be home if it got bad.”

It got bad at the 2,550-acre park on the Tennessee River near Rogersville. When a tornado warning was issued a little after 5:00 p.m., Barr donned his uniform and headed into the park to help Robertson warn the patrons and park volunteers of the impending storm.

Fortunately, with the Christmas season in full swing, the park was not full of campers or visitors.

“Ryan already had people evacuated from the campground,” Barr said. “We only had seven campers and four of those were volunteers. If we have a lot of people, we put some in the bathhouses and some at the campground store. Ryan took some of them to the lodge. He stayed with them. I was at the campground store with two ladies and two kids and a Pyrenees dog. I usually get out and ramble during something like this, but something told me not to do that. I stayed at the store. My son was with me, and he was watching the storm on the weather radar.”

Barr’s son told him the storm was about to hit, and Barr sent the visitors into one bathroom while he and his son got in the other.

The power went out, and a few minutes later it became apparent that they were in the tornado’s path.

“The store has metal doors on each side,” Barr said. “Those doors started flapping. I didn’t stick my head out to see, but it sounded like those doors were opening all the way and closing. The wind was howling and whistling. That lasted for three or four minutes and then it was quiet.”

While all campers, volunteers and park personnel escaped injury during the storm, the campground did not fare as well.

“When I was sure it had blown over, I thought we had escaped the worst of it until I went outside and got in my truck,” Barr said. When the lights came on, I could see big pine trees down. I tried to go up the hill to my house, but the road was blocked by trees.”

Barr walked the rest of the way to his house, which was unscathed, although numerous trees were down in the yard. Back in the campground, Barr discovered that the A section did not have much damage.

“But the B section was total destruction,” he said. “The bathhouse was destroyed. The meeting pavilion was caved in by trees falling on it.”

By that time, Barr was joined by Robertson and Park District Supervisor Chad Davis as well as part-time employee Morris Barnes, who has since become a full-time ranger at Monte Sano State Park.

Barnes hopped onto a backhoe and all hands started clearing downed trees out of the roadways until they realized live power lines were down in the park and decided to wait until daylight to resume their work.

The next morning, Barr discovered he had a view of the Tennessee River that he never expected or wanted.

“I’ve been a ranger and campground supervisor here for over 30 years,” he said. “This is my home. To see my life’s work blown away was devastating. We got strike teams in from other parks, cut our way through the different sections to assess the damage. I can’t really describe it. A section survived. Three-quarters of B section was gone. C section was completely wiped out.”

Barr, who was recently promoted to assistant superintendent at Wheeler, said out of 116 camping sites only 60 remained usable. Two bathhouses were destroyed. One large pavilion and two smaller pavilions were destroyed. Beautiful, tall pine trees were strewn throughout the campground.

“From my house, you can see forever,” he said. “You can see the river from my backyard, which you used to could never see. I can see all the way across the river. I miss the trees.”

Barr is just thankful that the pre-Christmas period is a slow time at Wheeler.

“I know of one camper who left early because of the weather,” he said. “I’m glad he did because that site he was staying at was completely leveled. If there had been many people in the campground, there would have been multiple fatalities.”

Barnes, who lives only 2½ miles from Wheeler, not only had heavy equipment experience, he also served with the Rogersville Police Department at that time.

Barnes ended up in an even more harrowing situation a few days after helping with the aftermath of the tornado.

Heavy downpours had caused creeks in north Alabama to swell rapidly. Barnes, who is trained in swift-water and high-angle rescue, had finished his shift with the Rogersville PD at 5:00 p.m. when a call came in about a car swept into a creek. That incident resulted in a fatality.

Then a second call came in about another car in the same creek not far away from the first incident.

“That girl’s mother went looking for her and drove off in the same creek, not knowing she was there,” Barnes said. “The first car was completely submerged. The second one, the front was stuck in the ground and the rear end was hung in a tree. The woman had managed to crawl out through the back glass.”

After being unable to rescue the woman, area enforcement officers called for the swift-water rescue team of which Barnes was a member.

Barnes got the Florence Fire Department to aid in the rescue with a rubber boat and a heavy fire truck that could be used as an anchor point in the swift water.

Barnes and another first responder got into the rubber boat and it was slowly released into the creek by rope.

“Once we got the boat over to the car, I knew her,” Barnes said of the trapped woman. “Everybody told me she was going to fight me, but when we made eye contact, I called her out by name. She called out my name, and then I told what I wanted her to do and not fight me. I got over close enough to put a life jacket on her and latched onto her. I didn’t try to drag her into the boat, but we dragged her to the opposite bank and released her to those personnel.”

Unfortunately, Barnes discovered the daughter’s car about 40 yards down the creek completely submerged with no hope of rescue.

After the incident, the Rogersville City Council and Mayor presented Barnes with a life-saving award that he was hesitant to accept.

“I’m not a hero,” Barnes said. “I had a job to do. To me, the hero was the woman. She hung in there for almost three hours until we could get to her.”

Barnes said it was a perfect example for the mantra of “Turn around, don’t drown.”

“It rained so hard and fast that the county didn’t have enough time to get up the barricades,” he said. “Lauderdale County is 71 miles wide. It just happened so fast.”

Sometimes, the problems park rangers encounter are not weather related.

For example, Lake Lurleen State Park Ranger Mark Caton, who has been a first responder in one capacity or another for more than 20 years, was checking people coming into the park when one vehicle left the road and went through the grass.

“We deal with all kinds of people,” Caton said. “It’s like having a concert in your jurisdiction every day.”

The driver of the errant vehicle exited and then jumped into the lake.

“Obviously, that’s not normal behavior,” Caton said. “He yelled, ‘Don’t try to get me out.’ But I grabbed my rescue boat and headed out. I didn’t get too close and tried to get him to talking. Usually, if you can get people talking, the less they think about what they want to do.”

Caton found out the swimmer had been in and out of psychiatric care and had been self-medicating instead of taking his prescription medicines. Caton also found out he and his girlfriend had had a fight and she kicked him out.

“He felt like he didn’t have anywhere else to go and was just going to swim until he got tired and drowned,” Caton said. “I tried to build a rapport with him and tell him that drowning was not the way to go. Finally, he was getting thirsty and tired. I tossed him a cushion float and he took it. That was the first step to get him back to the side of the lake. Then I told him we had some Gatorade on the other side of the lake. Believe it or not, the Gatorade worked. For somebody who wasn’t thinking clearly, he zoned in on Gatorade. He was close to drowning a couple of times. He swam back in and got his Gatorade, like we promised, and then we got him to a hospital.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 mins ago

Alabama Farmers Federation endorses Jerry Carl in AL-01

The Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm, FarmPAC, on Tuesday announced the endorsement of Republican Jerry Carl in Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Carl, a Mobile County commissioner and businessman, is set to face former State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) in a GOP primary runoff on July 14.

Per FarmPAC’s process, congressional endorsements are recommended by county federations in each district based on the candidates’ positions on key issues impacting farmers and rural Alabama.

“We take pride in being a grassroots organization with local leaders driving the endorsement process,” Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said in a statement.

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“After a careful consideration, county Federations in southwest Alabama made their recommendation, and I am pleased to announce the Alabama Farmers Federation has endorsed Jerry Carl,” he advised. “Alabama’s 1st Congressional district has a rich heritage rooted in agriculture and timber, and Jerry will be strong advocate from those industries in Washington.”

Carl expressed appreciation for the federation’s endorsement.

“It is an incredible honor to have the endorsement of the Alabama Farmers Federation,” Carl remarked. “With agriculture being our state’s largest industry, our farmers are the backbone of our state and our economy. They represent the hard-working interests of the district that I will fight for in Congress as we work to get our economy back on track.”

“The Federation knows I will fight tirelessly for the president’s agenda and will do what is needed to support the hard-working men and women who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs,” he concluded.

Other candidates previously endorsed by the federation who are running in the July 14 Republican runoff are Tommy Tuberville for the U.S. Senate, Jeff Coleman for Congress in AL-02 and Judge Beth Kellum for Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2.

RELATED: Merrill: Absentee balloting still an option for runoff voters concerned about coronavirus

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

39 mins ago

City of Mobile cleans Confederate statue after overnight vandalism; Suspect arrested, charged

The statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes in downtown Mobile was defaced on Monday night, with a suspect already being booked and the monument restored.

Local media outlets reported that 20-year-old Mitchell Bond, a white male, has been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor after graffiting the base of the statue.

A two-person crew from the City of Mobile reportedly spent more than an hour power-washing the statue, and the spray paint can no longer be seen, per WKRG.

Bond, apparently sporting a t-shirt depicting former President Bill Clinton firing a gun, was hauled off to jail in handcuffs on Tuesday. His arrest came after investigators utilized surveillance footage of the incident, per NBC 15.

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Semmes commanded the CSS Alabama in the Confederate Navy. He died in Mobile in 1877.

Originally dedicated in 1900, the statue of Semmes is covered by the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.

George Talbot, director of communications and external affairs for the City of Mobile, told Fox 10 that “the statue was vandalized last night and a suspect has been identified. The graffiti is being cleaned, as we would do with any public property. Any decision on moving it would be collaborative in nature. There is a process for that, and we are listening to the community’s voice as part of that process.”

Semmes is a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame. The City of Semmes in western Mobile County was named after him, as was The Admiral Hotel (a Curio by Hilton property) in downtown Mobile.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Dale Jackson: Politicians taking a knee display performative wokeness, performative weakness

Why would an American politician take a knee as protesters chant “take a knee” or publish a picture of them taking a knee to social media?

There are only two reasons: performative wokeness or performative weakness.

There is a difference, but every single time some sad white politician thinks he or she can quiet a mob or show solidarity by taking a knee they are sadly mistaken.

That never appears to be the goal. This appears to be about pandering acquiescence and nothing more.

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Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, a public official of one of the most progressive non-college towns in the state, took a knee at a “mostly peaceful protest.”

Why?

According to Battle, he was attempting to show he supported the protest to keep his community safe.

“You know, I walked up and they said ‘kneel with me,'” Battle said on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show.” “I didn’t know if they wanted to pray or if they wanted to kneel, but I was fine with it. You know, there’s no pride in this thing. The pride is getting through the event and getting through it with our community intact and without shots being fired and without windows being broken. If it takes kneeling, I’ll kneel to try to make sure our community is safe.”

That is performative wokeness.

When asked about the chants and demands that cops kneel at this same protest, Battle said he never saw that and felt there was no need for it from Huntsville police.

“They kept saying, ‘They need to kneel, they need to kneel.’ There wasn’t a need for them to kneel. They were standing there doing their job and they were standing there as a blue line in front of everybody to make sure people were safe,” Battle explained.

They did not kneel.

But some cops have taken a knee.

Either way, Mayor Battle can support their cause and be a part of it. He can, and does, support the removal of the Confederate memorial on Madison County Courthouse grounds but these protesters still wanted an image of him on his knees.

They got it.

Did he get what he wanted?

Nope.

Tear gas was needed, rocks were thrown, rioters went to another part of the city, and attempted to attack a shopping center.

So it is now performative weakness on Battle’s part. We will see how it plays out at the next scheduled protest in Huntsville on Wednesday.

Nationally, Joe Biden visited a church in Delaware and took this photo:

Now, this is performative wokeness!

Mask on tight, even though it was off earlier in the visit. Biden centered in the photo, down on one knee, while black leaders stand behind him.

It might as well be this episode of “South Park,” where a main character attempts to atone for a racial slur by kissing Jesse Jackson’s backside (it didn’t work).

Joe Biden is doing whatever he needs to win an election, nothing more.

That is performative wokeness.

When it comes to a politician or any other figure being cajoled to take a knee in solidarity with protesters, it can only be a sign of performative wokeness or performative weakness. Those are the only options.

Americans do not want their leaders “taking a knee” to anyone. They want strength and someone who stands tall.

As cities burn and threats to businesses and communities remain, the last thing people want is the appearance of wokeness from their leaders and they definitely don’t want weakness.

That’s what this is.

Whether you like Trump or not, walking out to a burned church after ordering a park cleared of a disruptive element is a statement of power and leadership.

The media hates this. They wanted Trump trapped in the White House while they cheerlead for chaos and carnage.

They all want Trump to look weak, but he is engaging in performative strength.

The question is about what Americans want from leaders.

Americans want more strength, more law and order, less violence and a sense of normalcy.

Trump has to deliver this, not with words and photo ops but in action, too.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

2 hours ago

Jefferson County issues curfew; Most Jeff Co. cities also under curfew

The Jefferson County Commission on Tuesday voted to impose a curfew on the unincorporated portions of its jurisdiction, as most cities within the county are also under curfew.

Following the violence, vandalism and looting that occurred in Birmingham on Sunday night, municipalities in the metropolitan area quickly moved to prepare against potential civil unrest.

WBRC reported that the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County now have a curfew from 7:00 p.m. until to 6:00 a.m. The curfew currently runs through June 9.

This mirrors the curfew of many cities within the county.

Per WBRC, here are current city curfews in the Birmingham metro area:

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Mountain Brook — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Birmingham — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hueytown — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hoover — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Tarrant — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Homewood — 8: 00p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Leeds — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Adamsville — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Gardendale — 7:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Irondale — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.

Hoover has also been dealing in recent days with tense protests, culminating in at least 45 arrests as of Monday, according to The Hoover Sun. A state of emergency has been declared by Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato.

The newspaper reported that Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said that officers had bottles of water, bottles of urine and eggs thrown at them during demonstrations, and one police officer was injured. Two retail stores reportedly had glass doors and/or windows smashed.

The Hoover Sun further reported that Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Coker made a request on the county’s and multiple area cities’ behalf to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to have the National Guard available to assist any part of the county that may need help in maintaining the peace.

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens and the respective mayors of Hoover, Homewood, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills all requested this action, Coker told the newspaper.

This came after Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has given authorization to Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon with the Alabama National Guard to activate up to 1,000 guardsmen, should the need arise in response to violent civil unrest.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Local pastor uses earnings from gospel album to pay off $900K in medical debt held by neighboring Birminghamians

Birmingham pastor Mike McClure, Jr.’s recent album spent 10 weeks on the Billboard Gospel chart, and he is now using some of the proceeds to help those around him.

He partnered with RIP Medical Debt, a charity that buys large bundles of medical debt hospitals are not sure they can collect on for a small percentage of the total amount owed. The charity then forgives what an individual owes, relieving them of their debts penalty-free

McClure’s generosity was first reported by ABC33/40. He was able to purchase and forgive $900,000 worth of debt, which eased the financial load of 542 families.

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“Being from Birmingham, I made God a promise that if he ever blessed me, that I would in turn bless others. So, I’m just so grateful and humble to keep up my end of the promise,” McClure told ABC33/40.

The 36-year-old reverend founded Rock City Church in 2009, and it has grown to several thousand members that meet in three different locations.

In addition to its sales success, McClure’s album, called “Live Free,” was nominated for five Stellar Awards. The Stellar Awards honor the best in gospel music each year.

The name he uses as a recording artist is Pastor Mike Jr., and his work can be found on major streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

The paying off of medical debt is not McClure’s first act of generosity. He also attracted attention when his church gave away gasoline in recent years when gas prices were high.

“I am utterly grateful to be part of such an incredible city, we’re not divided, we’re all coming together to help those in need and if we can keep that same energy, I think that Birmingham can be a place of reconciliation and change. Get ready, because what God is doing in Birmingham is going to be big,” McClure concluded in his comments to ABC33/40.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95