Christopher High School teacher charged with felony aggravated DUI


Staff Report

A Christopher High School teacher is in custody at the Franklin County Jail after being charged with aggravated DUI early Sunday morning following a traffic stop in northern rural Franklin County.

gisher mugGary Gischer, 45, of Benton, was stopped by Ewing Police for a lane violation and subsequently charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.  Gischer was processed at the county jail at 2:39 a.m. and according to Sheriff Don Jones was still in custody at midday Tuesday.  Gischer, a former boy’s basketball coach at Christopher High School, is being held on $10,000 bond, which would require $1,000 cash bail for release.

Franklin County State’s Attorney Evan Owens would not comment on the arrest but did say the investigation is ongoing and that additional charges are possible.  Owens said that Gischer was cited for the enhanced charge of aggravated DUI because this is his third arrest for driving under the influence.  Under Illinois statute a third DUI offense is a Class 2 felony which carries a sentencing range upon conviction of three to seven years in prison to probation.

Christopher Unit School District Superintendent Richard Towers issued a prepared statement regarding the arrest.

“The administration is aware that Gary Gischer has been arrested and is currently in jail.  Once Mr. Gischer is released from jail, the district will review available information and will proceed in accordance with applicable policies and laws.  District policy calls for a notification of an employee prior to any district-administered disciplinary action.  We are continuing to follow and review this situation.”

Benton’s Kelly Stewart named superintendent of the year by Illinois Association of School Administrators

Kelly Stewart has been selected superintendent of the year for the Egyptian division of the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

Here’s the link to the story in the Southern Illinoisan.

Obituary – Mae Sneed – Ewing

EWING – Mae Sneed, 88, passed away Wednesday evening, Sept. 25, 2013, in Franklin Hospital in Benton.

She was born in Frisco, June 27, 1925, the daughter of Sebern Loyd and Ethel Mable (Ward) Neal.

She married Garold Sneed on June 28, 1943, and he preceded her in death Nov. 10, 1974.

In 1982 Mrs. Sneed was voted Franklin County Farm Woman of the Year. Aside from her family, her love was cooking and baking pies (for which she was well known). She enjoyed going to cattle shows, auctions and collecting antiques.

Mrs. Sneed was a very active member of Rescue Free Will Baptist Church. She served as secretary-treasurer of the Woman’s Auxiliary at the Church. Mrs. Sneed was always ready and willing to help people in their time of need, especially serving dinners at the church.

Mrs. Sneed is survived by her two sons, Dennis Sneed and wife, Delenise, of Ewing, and Mark Sneed of Stillwater, Okla.; two granddaughters, Jennifer Abbott and fiancé, Danny Estep of Benton, and Jamie Mosley and husband, Cary, of Benton; four great-grandchildren, Kodi and Kyle Abbott and Taylor and Preston Mosley; three sisters, Mildred Koerner of Warsaw, Ind., Fay Klosowski of Milwaukee, Wis., and Loretta Odom and husband, James, of Benton; and several nieces and nephews.

Mrs. Sneed was preceded in death by her parents; husband; four brothers, Ralph, Carl, Jim and Gail; and by two sisters, Ethel Pearl Hargis and Helen Heimer.

Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in Morton & Johnston Funeral Home in Benton, with the Rev. Bryant Harris officiating. Burial will be in Shiloh Cemetery in Whittington. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the funeral home in Benton.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in Mrs. Sneed’s name may be made to Rescue Free Will Baptist Church.

SI Hunting and Fishing Days set for Logan this weekend




Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – The 26th annual edition of Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days is this weekend on the John A. Logan College campus in Carterville. People of all ages will have the opportunity to learn more about outdoor-related activities.

“For starters, we should be blessed with good weather,” said JALC Director of College Relations, Dr. Steve O’Keefe. “There is a record number of vendors this year (156) and even more activities planned for the entire family than ever offered before. We hope to draw record crowds.”

Bow season for deer is just around the corner and many mounts will be on display this weekend during National Hunting and Fishing Days at JALC. (Logan Media Services file photo)

Bow season for deer is just around the corner and many mounts will be on display this weekend during National Hunting and Fishing Days at JALC. (Logan Media Services file photo)

Routinely, more than 30,000 patrons turn out each year for the event.

O’Keefe said the 3D archery event should be one of the featured attractions with bow season for deer about to get under way.

“Call it an opportunity for hunters to get their bows tuned up for the new season,” he said.

Dwight Hoffard, one of the longtime event organizers at the College, said he’s amazed that each show seems to be better than the previous year.

“What an outstanding family event,” he said. “You can come and don’t have to spend a dime. There’s no charge for admission, no charge to park (donations are accepted) and plenty of free entertainment. What more could you ask for in an area that remains economically challenged.”

Hoffard said children will have the opportunity to win some nice prizes when fishing as some of the fish will be tagged. Free T-shirts, courtesy of McDonald’s, and bikes are among the prizes.

“The theme of this event is ethics, safety and the conservation of outdoor resources,” Hoffard said. “It is our hope that those who attend will leave here with only positive thoughts about outdoor-related activities.”

The activities kick off at 8 a.m. Saturday with the Don Gasaway Youth Goose Calling Contest in the school auditorium. Also scheduled at that time is registration for the Heartland Dock Jumpers at the practice dog tank.

At 9 a.m., Bob the Bear & Porter Ridge Crew will wake up the bear in the cage at the west lot. There will be a chainsaw carving demonstration in the tent area. Also starting about that time are the McDonald’s Kids’ Fishing Hole in the courtyard pond; 3D archery range and archery motion target range opening on the north campus and courtyard; Buckskinners Village; Heartland Dock Jumper demonstrations at the dog tank; and BB gun range opening in the courtyard.

At 10, the Tru-Tone Youth Duck Calling Contest is set for the auditorium. There will also be a wildlife program hosted by Beverly Shofstall in the kids’ tent and an SAR dog demonstration at the softball field, as well as helicopter rides at the baseball field.

At 10:30, Charlie Hogg will talk about tackle assortment for crappie fishing at the fish tank in Lot A. Biologist Chris Bickers will also give a lake report at the fish tank and there will be a catfish weigh-in on the outdoor stage. A youth art contest will be conducted inside the gymnasium.

At 11, Camo the Clown will perform in the gym. The Bowfishing Association of Illinois will arrange a demonstration for kids at the fishing area.

At 11:30, the Heartland dock Jumpers will put together another demonstration at the dog tank followed by a visit from the Dog Whisperer, Dan Ihrke at high noon at the fish tank stage. A second wildlife program will be offered by Shofstall at the kids’ tent.

At 12:30, the Tom Cat Hill Social Club will perform live music in the gymnasium. And at 1 p.m., Scott Ballard will speak on Reptiles of Illinois at the fish tank in Lot A. The Illinois State Open Duck “Meat” Calling Contest will also get started in the auditorium.

At 2 p.m., there will be a High School Bass Classic weigh-in at the outdoor stage, along with an SAR dog demonstration west of the dog tent. A third and final rendition of the Heartland Dock Jumpers at the dog tank is also scheduled at that time as is a final presentation by Shofstall on wildlife at the kids’ tent.

At 2:30, the Bassman Johnson Bass fishing seminar will be conducted at the fish tank. Camo the Clown will make a second appearance in the gym at 3.

There will be an Extreme Vertical Dock Jumpers show at the dog tank at 4:30 and the day comes to a close at 5.

Hooters makes good on promise, caters lunch for Benton firefighters

By Jim Muir

What started as a controversy has ended with three “Hooter’s Girls” making a special trip to Benton to cater a hot wing lunch for the city’s firefighters.

hootersMaking good on its promise, Hooters catered a lunch Tuesday afternoon at Donna’s Sweetwater Saloon, located east of Benton, for nine city firefighters.

The controversy which led to Tuesday’s lunch, began earlier this month when the Benton City Council denied a request for reimbursement for meals purchased when two firefighters were away at training because two of the receipts submitted were for meals at Hooters, the restaurant chain known for its hot wings and “Hooters Girls.”

Bob Burnett, who serves as public safety commissioner, asked the council to deny the meal reimbursement request because of the two Hooters receipts, totaling about $65. Burnett called the matter for a vote so that the entire council could decide. The reimbursement claim was denied by a 3-2 vote of the council.

In a story that appeared in a local newspaper, Burnett said:

“To each his own and if you want to pay to eat at Hooters on your own dime, that’s one thing but to ask the taxpayers to pay for it is another,” he said. “Respect me and the taxpayers enough not to do that.”

Benton firefighters are pictured with three Hooters' Girls, following a catered lunch on Tuesday.  The meal resulted from a controversy after the Benton city council refused to reimburse two firemen for meals at a Hooters restaurant while they were out of town receiving training. (Photo provided)

Benton firefighters are pictured with three Hooters’ Girls, following a catered lunch on Tuesday. The meal resulted from a controversy after the Benton city council refused to reimburse two firemen for meals at a Hooters restaurant while they were out of town receiving training.
(Photo provided)

Instead of getting in a war of words with the Benton city council about the decision to deny the bill, Hooters opted to fight back by offering a token of gratitude for Benton’s firefighters and all first responders.

In a statement issued Tuesday night a Hooter’s spokesperson said:

“Hooters loves and appreciates fire fighters and all first responders and that’s where our focus will remain. It was our pleasure to serve the Benton firefighters who work hard every day to protect their local community. As a show of appreciation, first responders receive 10 percent discount at Southern Illinois Hooters locations in uniform.”

Benton firefighters declined to comment about the council decision or the Hooters-catered meal but emphasized that all firemen were on their own time and that the lunch was not sanctioned by the city.

Diana Geiger, a district manager with Hooters will be a guest on WQRL’s “Sound Off” on Wednesday night (September 25) to talk about the decision to honor the Benton firefighters.




Old King Coal Festival gears up for weekend activities

Autumn-like temperatures will usher in a weekend of activities at one of Southern Illinois’ premiere events.  The Old King Coal Festival is gearing up for an exciting weekend of activities for all ages.  Below is the schedule.

okc schedule

Franklin County Farm Bureau News

By J. Larry Miller

As summer comes to an end soybeans are in need of some beneficial rainfall.  We are as dry as we have been all summer and soybeans will be reduced if some moisture does become a reality in a few days. That being said it will not be a disaster but we could lose as much as 25 percent of yield without some sun. The window of opportunity will close rapidly in the next two weeks.

Larry Miller, executive director Franklin County Farm Bureau

Larry Miller, executive director Franklin County Farm Bureau

I have heard of some corn being harvested in Saline County but have no report of yield or moisture content. It will be at least two weeks before any corn will be harvested in Franklin County.  Anticipation of high yields remains but many believe that the cool weather in August will cause some farmers to be a little disappointed. Rather that the best ever – it may only be one of the best. I remain optimistic it is the best on my farm.

A farmer in Central Illinois has corn coming out the field at 32.4 percent moisture and about 215 bushels per acre yield.

Farm shows in the last couple of weeks have been attended in record numbers. This year’s Half Century of Progress Farm Show in Rantoul was the largest ever. The show saw a 14 percent increase at the gate and a 29 percent increase in the amount of machinery brought to the show compared to two years ago.

This year’s Farm Progress Show was a flurry of activity – on Tuesday the morning began with a $70,000 check presentation to Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom from FS and Growmark.  The AITC program is reaching thousands of students and teaching them about agriculture in Illinois.

Melissa Lamczyk, AITC Coordinator from Franklin County was joined by AITC Coordinator Maridy Tso from Saline/Galatin County at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.  On both Thursday and Friday of last week they taught over 450 school children in grades K – 4 about agriculture in the Ag Expo Building.  There was a science experiment, a lesson about cows and many of them children made cow masks.  Everyone involved had a great time and Melissa is looking forward to making the experience even better next year.

Under a new federal law, every driver with a CDL must visit one of 47 state CDL facilities to declare which of four medical card categories is applicable. If someone’s CDL expires before Jan. 30, that individual may take care of the matter while renewing the license, Montalbano said.       Drivers who fail to declare their status by the deadline will have their CDLs suspended. By early August, 71 percent of drivers had declared their status. That still leaves 135,000 drivers at risk of losing their CDLs.

A driver with a CDL who does 100 percent of his transportation duties within the state’s borders would declare his status as “intrastate.”

However, a driver with a CDL who crosses the state border, no matter the distance, would declare his status as “interstate,” according to Montalbano.

The intrastate section offers a nonexcepted category for those subject to federal driver qualification requirements. An “excepted intrastate” category is offered for those who are excepted from all or parts of the state driver qualification requirements, such as the medical card.

“If they have a CDL, they must declare,” Montalbano said. “As farmers, if driving a straight truck, they would be exempt (from the driver qualification requirement) within their 150 miles across state lines doing farming business, etc. So that farmer can either mark EI (excepted interstate) or EA (excepted intrastate), and neither is wrong.

“However, if that same farmer does nonfarm work in the off season and crosses state lines for commercial purposes, he must mark NI (non-excepted interstate) and that covers all transactions,” Montalbano said.

More information on this issue can be found at

Remember, we are farmers working together. If we can help let us know.

Obituary – Gary Lee Howell – Sesser

Affectionately known as “Bugs,” Buggy” and “Uncle Bugs,” Gary Lee Howell passed away at 2:40 am on August 30, 2013 at Stone Bridge Senior Living Center in Benton with family members by his side.

bugs picMr. Howell was born July 6, 1946 in Herrin Hospital to Irene (Stomberski) and Dale Howell. Mr. Howell grew up in Freeman Spur, Illinois and graduated from Herrin High School in 1964. From 1966 to 1969, Mr. Howell served in the United States Navy. Mr. Howell worked as a top laborer at Old Ben Mine No. 21 from 1970 to 1991 and at the Zeigler NO.11 Mine in Coulterville from 1994 to 1997. Mr. Howell was a member of UMWA Local #1124. Mr. Howell also drove for Star Trucking and Dorris Trucking until 2006.

Mr. Howell married Linda Geraldine (Muir) VanZandt on August 22, 1970 in Freeman Spur, and she survives in Sesser, along with great niece Cassyln Pedigo who lives with Gary and Linda. Mr. Howell is also survived by son Jamey VanZandt of Mount Vernon, Illinois.

Other survivors include Mr. Howell’s mother, Irene Howell of Marion, an uncle, Harry Stomberski and wife Delores of Herrin, Illinois, a brother, Randy Howell and wife Marian of Herrin, Illinois, and a sister, Cathy Thomas and husband Joel of Lake of Egypt, Illinois. Mr. Howell is also survived by a beloved sister-in-law, Mary Ann Baker of Morris, Alabama, and brothers-in-law Billy Muir and wife Roberta of Nashville, Illinois, and Jim Muir and wife Lisa Kay of Sesser, Illinois. Other survivors include several nieces ‘and nephews, including Brigadier General H. Brent Baker and wife Roblye of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Bruce Baker of Morris, Alabama, Lyndsay Muir and fiance Ryan Lampert of Trenton, Illinois, Mackenzie Broyles and husband Justin of Collinsville, Illinois, Caleb Muir of Benton, Illinois, Bailey Muir of Benton, Illinois, Joey Burton of Chicago, Josh Burton and wife Lindsey of Carbondale, Heather Burkhalter and husband James of Marble Hill, Missouri, and Patti Howell also of Marble Hill, and several beloved great-nieces and great-nephews. Mr. Howell was preceded in death by a brother, David Howell, and his father, Dale Howell.

Mr. Howell was a friend to all – he never met a stranger. He loved all of his family, his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, sharp cars and trucks, especially Chevrolets, music by Elvis, and Sylvester Stallone and Rocky films. “Uncle Buggy” was a decent, humble, and caring person to all, and was loved and admired beyond measure.

Visitation for Gary Lee Howell will be held from 5:00 to 8:00 pm on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at Brayfield-Gilbert Funeral Home in Sesser. Funeral services will be conducted at 1:00 pm on Monday, September 2, 2013, with Bro. Larry Cook officiating. Interment will follow at Maple Hill Cemetery in Sesser, IL.

McKinney enters ‘not guilty’ plea to all charges

BENTON –  William P. McKinney, the former Buckner police officer facing charges in the death of Roy D. Barnhart, has entered a plea of not guilty to all charges.  Barnhart was also a Buckner resident.

During a court appearance on Wednesday, the 60-yer-old McKinney was also appointed a new attorney — his third attorney since the charges were filed six weeks ago — after newly-appointed attorney David Garavalia withdrew due to a conflict of interest.  Garavalia was appointed only last week to replace Eric Dirnbeck who also cited a conflict in representing McKinney.  Veteran Benton attorney Brian Drew was appointed by Judge Paul Lamar to represent McKinney.

The incident that led to McKinney’s arrest took place on July 7 when the former Buckner officer responded, along with other law enforcement officers, to a report of a fight in progress.  Barnhart and McKinney engaged in a heated argument before Barnhart was placed under arrest.  Several witnesses told authorities that McKinney continued to beat Barnhart after he was handcuffed and on the ground.  Barnhart died four days later in a St. Louis hospital. McKinney is charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery of a senior citizen and official misconduct in connection with the death of Barnhart.

A jury trial was set for Nov. 5.  McKinney remains in custody at Franklin County Jail.






Garavalia appointed as attorney for former Buckner police officer charged with involuntary manslaughter

Staff Report

Benton attorney David Garavalia has been appointed as legal counsel for former Buckner police officer William P. McKinney, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of 62-year-old Roy D. Barnhart, of Buckner.

The appointment of Garavalia to replace Eric Dirnbeck, who had previously filed a motion to withdraw as McKinney’s attorney due to a conflict of interest, took place during a Wednesday court hearing in Franklin County Circuit.

The incident that led to McKinney’s arrest took place on July 7 when the former Buckner officer responded, along with other law enforcement officers, to a report of a fight in progress.  Barnhart and McKinney engaged in a heated argument before Barnhart was placed under arrest.  Several witnesses told authorities that McKinney continued to beat Barnhart after he was handcuffed and on the ground.  Barnhart died four days later in a St. Louis hospital.

McKinney is also charged with aggravated battery of a senior citizen and official misconduct in connection with the death of Barnhart.

McKinney is scheduled for arraignment on Wednesday, August 28 in Franklin County Court.

Benton, West Frankfort, Illinois News | Franklin County News