2017’s top stories published in the Ozark County Times: part 2

Work began in July on the CC Highway Bridge near Dora, shown here, and on the PP Highway Bridge near Dawt, known locally as James Bridge.

While in Xi’an, China, several Lutie students, including Alexis Amos, left, and Morgan McFarlin, rented bicycles and rode them on the Xi’an City Wall.

Savannah Leckie

Rebecca Ruud

Robert Peat Jr. with his defense attorney

Slavik family home engulfed in flames

Last week we published highlights of the top stories published in the Ozark County Times from January through June 2017. This week we continue that summary, looking back at the stories that garnered the most interest from July through December. 


July 2017

Bridge rebuilding work begins at James and Hammond bridges 

Heavy equipment arrived in early July to begin rebuilding two Ozark County bridges that were destroyed by the April 29-30 floods. The Missouri Highways and Trans-portation Commission awarded contracts to Clarkson Construction of Kansas City on June 29 to replace the bridges on PP Highway near Dawt and CC Highway near Dora that were destroyed when the waters of the North Fork of the White River reached historic levels. The contract for James Bridge on PP Highway was for $2,636,575, and the contract for the CC Highway bridge was  for $2,797,915. Chris Rutledge, MoDOT engineer, estimated that the bridges would be completed in October. 


MDC adds Ozark County to CWD Management Zone, prohibits salt licks and feeding here, with exceptions

On July 1 the Missouri Department of Conservation expanded restrictions on feeding deer and placing minerals for deer from 29 to 41 counties throughout the state. The restrictions put in place in July included Ozark County, where mandatory tissue sampling of deer harvested during the opening weekend of the November portion of the firearms deer season (Nov. 11-12) was also announced. The new regulations are intended to help limit the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD). The 41 counties where the regulations now apply comprise MDC’s CWD Management Zone – the MDC-designated counties in and around areas where CWD has been found.


Six SBA loans totaling $622,300 approved for Ozark County flood survivors

Six low-interest loans totaling $622,300 were approved for Ozark County flood-impacted property owners in early August by the Small Business Administration. All six of the approved loans were categorized as “home” loans; no “business” loans were shown in the information provided by SBA personnel, who were in Gainesville the first week in August to close out the Disaster Recovery Center that had operated in the basement of the Ozark County Health Department since June 24. 


Lutie Students travel to China

After two years of planning, fundraising and dreaming of lands far from Ozark County, nine Lutie students and their teacher, Caleb Daniels, plus another teacher and sponsors recently traveled halfway around the world to experience a culture very different from their own. Daniels announced in January 2016 that he and some of his Lutie students were beginning a fundraising campaign to raise money for a History of China course at Lutie that would conclude with a 15-day trip to China in summer 2017. The group worked hard to raise funds for the trip through events and fundraising campaigns. The local community was extremely generous, Daniels said, and the group was able to raise about $22,000 for travel expenses. The students funded the remainder of the trip themselves through savings or individual fundraisers. Those attending the trip included Lutie students C.J. Dutton, Alex Lubbers, Alexis Howard, Brianna Wayman, Alexis Amos, Morgan McFarlin, Tori Broyles, Lakelynn Vaught, Cheyanne Kellett and Samuel Gately. Another Lutie teacher, Sandra Woody, and sponsors Matthew Shoush, Julie Vaught and Donald Gateley also made the trip. 


Theodosia teen goes missing 

Savannah Leckie, a 16-year-old Theodosia girl, was reported missing from her home July 20. Savannah’s mother, Rebecca Ruud, told authorities that her daughter was home when Rund went to sleep around 11 p.m. Wednesday, July 19, but when she awoke at 8 a.m. Thursday, July 20, the girl was gone. Ruud contacted authorities around 10 a.m. July 20, and dozens of emergency workers responded, including several officers from both the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol along with volunteers from Pontiac, Theodosia Area, Caney Mountain and Lick Creek VFDs. The group dispersed on foot, on ATVs and four-wheelers and by patrol cars on the area’s roadways. A private plane and the Baxter County, Arkansas, Sheriff’s Office helicopter were also brought in to search the area by air.


After being submerged for three months, County Road 318 bridge at Dawt reopens

Submerged by the North Fork of the White River for three months after a devastating flood swept through the area April 29, the County Road 318 bridge at Dawt reopened July 28. The opening was good news to many Ozark County residents, who had much longer driving time to get to work, church and other areas when it was underwater. Dwaine Turner and his wife, Lowena, were driving 40 miles to get to Clear Springs Church each Sunday when the bridge was underwater. Once it was opened, they resumed their usual half-mile commute. Dawt Mill resort’s manager, Ron Harden, had been crossing the North Fork River by boat to get to work each day before the bridge was reopened. 


August 2017

Vigil held for Savannah Leckie

Rain fell lightly from the sky Aug. 18 as a somber group of about 60 people gathered at Theodosia Marina Resort for a prayer and vigil service in honor of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie, who went missing from her Theodosia home July 20. Those attending could not know that three days later, the human remains that had been found on the Theodosia-area farm owned by the teenager’s biological mother, would be confirmed as Savannah’s.

Dave Homer Jr., pastor of The Bridge Church in Theodosia, led the service, which focused on hope. Event organizers Kat Wight of Humansville and Becky Bonds of Kirbyville did not know Savannah, but the pair of women said her story has touched their hearts from the beginning. Wight, who traveled over two and a half hours to attend the event, said Savannah’s story hit close to home for her because she also has a child who, like Savannah, is adopted and has autism. Among the people who spoke at the service were Marilyn Fulkerson, who knew Savannah through her work at the Isabella VFW post;  Cindy Korver, who knew Savannah through the Theodosia United Methodist Church youth group and while working with her at the Theodosia Sizzlin’ Summer Kick-Off; and Karen Schofield.


First total eclipse viewable from Missouri in 148 years

The Aug. 21 solar eclipse took a 70-mile-wide path diagonally across Missouri. St. Joseph, Kansas City, Columbia, Jefferson City and St. Louis were among the major cities in the totality range. Some Ozark County viewers traveled to areas within the path of totality to get the full effect of the eclipse. Viewers in Ozark County were able to see an eclipse of nearly 96 percent totality around 1:15 p.m. that day. Things could be different seven years from now, when the path of totality during the next solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, passes through Ozark County.


Ruud charged with murdering her daughter, Savannah Leckie

Rebecca Ruud, biological mother of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie, was charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, tampering with physical evidence in a case and abandoning a corpse without notifying authorities. Ruud was arrested Aug. 21 by Ozark County deputies at a Greyhound bus station in Springfield, where she had reportedly bought a ticket to leave the area. Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed, with deputies Winston Collins and Curt Dobbs, was watching outside the bus station with two plain clothes Springfield officers inside the terminal when Ruud was taken into custody without incident. The charges came after a forensic specialist confirmed earlier in August that human remains discovered during an executed search warrant Aug. 4 on Ruud’s 81-acre farm on County Road 905 near Theodosia were Savannah’s.


September 2017

TAVFD holds memorial service for junior firefighter Savannah Leckie

Emotions were high at the Sept. 9 memorial service and candlelight vigil organized by Theodosia Area Volunteer Fire Department members, who joined area residents and out-of-state family members in saying good-bye to 16-year-old TAVFD junior firefighter Savannah Leckie. Tears glistened on several faces speakers paid tribute to Savannah and then a ringing-of-the-bell and last call ceremony was conducted by the Ozark County firefighters honor guard. As candles were lit and a floating lantern drifted into the darkening sky, TAVFD chief Tim Jeffery noted that the lantern was floating northwestward, in the direction of Savannah’s biological mother’s Theodosia-area property where, on Aug. 4, the girl’s charred remains had been found. Savannah’s uncle, Shannon Prunty, from Williston, North Dakota, attended the service, as did her cousins Shelly and Todd Farber from Brainard, Minnesota, and an aunt, Lisa Orn, also from Minnesota

Robert Peat Jr. charged

Robert Peat Jr. was arrested Sept. 21 after an Ozark County grand jury handed down indictments the day before, charging him and Rebecca Ruud with the murder of Savannah Leckie. Like Ruud, Peat is charged with first-degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, second-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence in a felony prosecution and abandonment of a corpse. Ruud and Peat, who were in a romantic relationship at the time of Leckie’s death, were married the same day that burned human remains were found on Ruud’s 81-acre farm. 


October 2017

Times receives awards at 2017 Missouri Press Association convention

The Ozark County Times brought home two first place awards, five second place awards, four third place awards and one honorable mention at the 2016 Missouri Press Better Newspaper Contest awards luncheon held at University Plaza Hotel in Springfield Sept. 30. The Times took first place for the best front page, which is judged on design, photography and quality of writing. Jessi Dreckman also took first place int he best page design category for the Times’ Memorial Day tribute to fallen veterans. The Times won second place in the best overall page design category, which is judged on consistent quality of design and layout of the entire newspaper, including typography, photography, use of white space and all design elements. Sue Ann Jones took second place in the best humorous columnist category with the column “Grandma’s lesson of the underpants.” Jones also won second place in best news or feature obituary category for her story on teenager Tyler Hickerson’s tragic death; she also brought home second place in the best story about religion category for her “Gale Wooten retires from Mammoth” story. Dreckman brought home second place in the best photo illustration from her “Some sacrificed all” design in the Times’ Memorial Day issue. The Times staff was awarded third place in the general excellence category, which is judged on breadth of news coverage, quality of writing, advertising design and layout, general layout, use of photos and artwork, editorial page, front page, sports page, headline language and treatment of public notices. It also received third place in the community service category for its coverage and sponsoring of a project for free smoke alarms following a tragic fire that killed a young Gainesville student, Jesse Sims, and his family. Jones won third place in the best news or feature obituary category for her story on Clifton Luna’s  funeral in Dora. The Times’ Ozark County Cookin’ earned third place in the best special section category. Jessi Dreckman’s photo of a house fire earned an honorable mention.


James and CC Highway bridges reopen

Just as MoDOT predicted, the rebuilt James and CC Highway bridges opened to the public in early October, just six months after they were completely washed away in the historic flood April 29-30. The Irwin C. Cudworth Bridge on CC Highway at Hammond reopened Oct. 4, and the James Bridge on PP Highway  opened Oct. 11. 


November 2017

MDC takes samples to test for CWD

Volunteer Hailey Turner and John Peter, MDC wildlife resource technician at Caney Mountain Conservation Area, were pictured in the Nov. 11 edition of the  Times taking a tissue sample from a harvested deer at the chronic wasting disease check station at Gainesville High School. For the first time, Ozark County was one of the counties where mandatory sampling was conducted during opening weekend of the firearms deer season. It was added to the list of counties where mandatory sampling is being conducted after CWD was detected in animals in Arkansas.

Fire destroys Dora-area home of Slavik family

A large home near Dora where Romanian immigrants Radu and Anna Slavik lived with their six children (they also have a college-student son living in Springfield), was totally destroyed Thanksgiving morning by a fast-moving fire that apparently started in the chimney. Radu Slavik credited 2-1/2-year-old Raven with saving the family from the flames that destroyed their home. The home’s smoke alarm was too far from the master bedroom for Radu and Anna to hear it, but they heard Raven crying and calling to Radu through the baby monitor when the smoke apparently awakened her.  


December 2017

Public expresses opinions on future of Bryant Creek State Park

More than 100 people attended an informational meeting Dec. 5 in Ava about the future of the new Bryant Creek State Park in Douglas County a few miles north of Rockbridge. The meeting included three exhibits where Missouri State Park employees answered visitors’  questions and shared information about the park. Written comments were accepted at the meeting, and online comments are currently being accepted through Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, on the Missouri State Parks website. 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423

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