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Alert state trooper intercepts accused drug trafficker


JONESBORO — A speeding ticket was just the beginning of problems for a Blytheville man.

A state trooper reported finding 24 ounces of methamphetamine in his specially-equipped car. Police also found 251 fentanyl pills, 10 oxycodone pills, 13.4 grams of crack cocaine and 22.3 grams of powder cocaine.

On Friday, Craighead County District Judge Tommy Fowler found probable cause to charge Drew Travis Crite, 39, with two counts of trafficking a controlled substance, possession of meth or cocaine with the purpose to deliver, possession of a controlled substance not meth or cocaine and the traffic offense of speeding. He set bond at $350,000 and ordered him to appear Dec. 29 in Craighead County Circuit Court.

Each trafficking charge carries a potential life prison sentence.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Trooper Tanner Middlecoff observed the car Crite was driving turn east onto Arkansas 226 from U.S. 49 on Wednesday. He made an improper turn by using the inner lane as opposed to the lane closest to him. The car then accelerated to 71 mph in a 60 mph zone. As he entered the Jonesboro city limits, Middlecoff initiated a traffic stop.

Crite told the trooper he had been visiting his daughter in Newport, which caused Middlecoff to question why Crite had taken the longer route.

Middlecoff found the drugs after learning Crite was on active parole and conducting a search of the vehicle. He spotted the meth in a natural void near the rear, passenger side wheel well that was accessible from the interior under the rear seat, according to the affidavit.


Lawsuit alleges 'widespread' abuse at shuttered youth facility

LITTLE ROCK — Eight former residents of a youth treatment center that was run by an Arkansas man whose bribery conviction was commuted by former President Donald Trump have filed a lawsuit claiming they were victims of 'systematic and widespread' abuse at the now-shuttered facility.

Attorneys for the former residents of the Lord's Ranch said the lawsuit is the first of several to be filed in the coming weeks alleging abuse at the facility that closed in 2016 after owner Ted Suhl was convicted in a federal bribery scheme. Suhl's conviction was commuted by Trump in 2019.

'Men and women who owned, operated, and staffed the facility preyed on and abused the children housed on the remote facility in Warm Springs, Arkansas routinely and systematically,' the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court said.

The lawsuit against Suhl and others claims the unnamed residents were victims of repeated sexual abuse and rape by an employee of the facility, describing the abuse in graphic detail.

The employee, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had not been charged by police with abuse. An attorney who represented Suhl in his bribery case did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday.

'Children at the Lord's lived in constant fear, knowing that they were alone in a remote, unfamiliar environment far from home and at the complete mercy of a sadistic staff,' the lawsuit said. 'For many children, survival meant compliance with the physical and sexual abuse.'

The ranch — later named Trinity Be-

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havioral Health — opened in 1976 and was licensed in 1987 by the state as a residential child care facility.

The lawsuit claims Suhl and others at the ranch made an 'intentional, fully conscious decision' to allow the abuse to occur and threatened victims who spoke up.

A federal jury in 2016 found Suhl guilty of charges related to paying up to $20,000 in cash bribes over four years to a state health official in hopes of receiving inside information to benefit his businesses.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released after Trump commuted his sentence to time served.

The White House in 2019 called Suhl 'a pillar of his community before his prosecution and a generous contributor to several charities' in its statement announcing Trump's commutation. Suhl's clemency request had been supported by former Gov.

Mike Huckabee.

Attorneys for the residents said they represent at least 30 who have also claimed abuse at the facility. The attorneys said they're filing additional lawsuits, citing a January 2024 deadline under a recent Arkansas law that extended the statute of limitation on child sex abuse cases.

'Each story is worse than the next,' attorney Martin Gould told reporters in a Zoom call on Tuesday with attorney Josh Gillispie.

One of the plaintiffs said the years he spent at the ranch were 'the worst, most horrific experiences I can remember.'


Conway partners with UCA for new aviation academy

The city of Conway's partnership with the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) for its new aviation academy at the Conway Regional Airport is a testament to the commitment and work of airport director Jake Briley, Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said following the announcement of the academy at the airport on Wednesday.

'I can't say enough about Jacob's input into this,' Castleberry said. 'UCA was already thinking about the idea, and [UCA President Houston Davis] and his team found ways to make it work after visiting with Jacob. It was a great partnership.'

The academy, set to begin with two single-engine planes in March 2024, will offer private and commercial aviation training, ratings and licensure, Davis told guests at the airport on Wednesday. Operated by the university's Division of Outreach and Community Engagement in partnership with Central Flying Service of Little Rock, students in the program can enroll even if they're not UCA students.

'The flexibility of this academy allows students to first pursue their workforce training needs if that is their main goal but also provides them a path to continue or pursue other degree options with the university if desired,' Davis said. 'Many students may prioritize securing their commercial pilot certificate to immediately work in the industry while other students will choose to attend UCA for another degree but also want to do their pilot training while in college. This innovative program is a win for the students, the industry, the city, the state and the university.'

Development of the academy will include the construction of a new hangar at the airport.

Castleberry said other potential growth opportunities at the airport include eventually extending the runway to allow larger planes to land and building more hangars as the pilots of some 55 aircraft are currently waiting to be able to house their planes at Cantrell Field.

'We're probably going to need to look into putting a fire station out here at some point in time,' Castleberry said. 'If we become a larger airport with an extended runway and a small amount of commuter traffic, then we will have to add the infrastructure with that.'

Castleberry also connected the city's continued work to attract youth sports tournaments to Conway with the growth of the airport.

Dignitaries from the city, state and national airlines attended Wednesday's announcement.

Officials hope the academy will serve as part of the solution to meeting the workforce needs of the aviation industry that is projected to have an average of 17,000 national yearly openings for airline and commercial pilots over the next decade.

'I couldn’t be more grateful for the combined efforts of UCA, the city of Conway and the Conway Regional Airport to spearhead this initiative.

Our state faces critical skilled worker shortages in industries like aviation. It will take all of us working together on new projects like the UCAAviation Academy to overcome these challenges and lead Arkansas’s economy into the next decades and beyond. As today’s announcement shows, we’re up to the task,' Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement read by a representative on Wednesday.

Arkansas Division of Higher Education Commissioner Ken Warden also spoke about the workforce demands the aviation industry in Arkansas faces, saying 'UCA, the city of Conway and Central Flying Service are to be commended for their joint commitment to innovative solutions to this challenge for our state.'

Over two decades of work culminated in Wednesday's announcement, UCA Athletic Director and interim Aviation Academy Director Brad Teague told the Log Cabin Democrat. A pilot himself, Teague said more serious discussions about an aviation program began after Davis joined the university in 2017.

One of the barriers to the academy involved the challenges in making a degree program to accompany it, Teague said. With the current structure not involving a degree, it's now feasible.

Teague said Central Flying Service is buying all the assets for the academy and supplying the instructors. He estimated students who attain a private license will spend about $12,000, and those who go on to attain a instrument rating will spend an additional $12,000. The commercial license takes 190 total flying hours or about $55,000.

UCA is actively fundraising for scholarship endowments, and university donors have been receptive to the academy. He said he thinks the university can get close to cutting the cost of the program in half for students through scholarships and other opportunities. Military and veterans are able to utilize GI Bill or military tuition assistance for the program.

Enrollment in the academy is open to anyone 17 years of age or older regardless of university student status. Visit for more information..

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