Public meeting turns into altercation

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Riverside School Superintendent Larry Nowlin opens the public meeting at Caraway for discussion of future improvement plans for the district. (Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)

What started out as a public meeting to discuss future plans for the Riverside School District soon escalated into a fist fight last Wednesday night between Riverside boys head coach Buster Campbell and Caraway resident Hunter Miller.

After the altercation between Campbell and Miller, they were both placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and transported in separate cars to the Craighead County Detention Center at Jonesboro, where they were both released on their own recognizance. Campbell and Miller are scheduled to appear in Craighead County District Court at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, to answer to the charges.

Riverside school superintendent Larry Nowlin opened the meeting at 6 p.m. in the junior high auditorium on the Caraway campus. The large audience was comprised mostly of Caraway residents who were in attendance for the open discussion on the 10-year school plan for the Riverside District.

"We called this meeting to discuss future facilities and the direction you want the school to go," Nowlin said. "The 10-year plan is in three phases. The first phase is the immediate repair phase, with our report due Feb. 1. The second phase is for us to file for funding for immediate repair, which is set by the school for 62 percent funded by the state. The third phase is the partnership with the state, and is due by May 7."

Riverside board members present included president Mike Hook, Donna Qualls, Lynn B. Nall, Kenny Weathers and Mike Brickell.

"We need information before we can make decisions," Nowlin said. "Then it has to be approved by the State Facilities Commission, working with the governor, and several legislators. They will all review our plans."

"Everything is tentative until we see what the legislators say," Hook said.

Nowlin opened the meeting to discussion from the audience.

Nowlin was asked if there was already a plan in place.

"No, we do not have a plan in place," Nowlin said. "That is why we are meeting tonight. The efficient thing would be to have one campus for junior and senior high school. Whatever the board and community wants will determine the decision."

"What about one big high school including Manila, BIC and Riverside?" Hunter Miller asked.

"I have talked with George Edd (Holland, BIC superintendent.)," Nowlin said. "And he is not interested at this time."

"I don't think the superintendents should be in on this at this time, as they are just wanting to save their jobs," Miller said.

"I'm not trying to save my job, as I am looking at retirement in two years anyway," Nowlin said.

"Let's build something big enough to keep us from having to go through this again, in a few years," Miller said.

"We should take advantage of this wealth index to build," Danny Dunigan said. "We have other options. We have cheated our kids long enough. I still have the same science equipment in my classroom that I had 37 years ago, when I started."

"If we have new facilities, we need new equipment," Nowlin said.

"The new construction so far has been on the backs of the people who work for the school district," Dunigan said. "And that is not the way it is supposed to be done."

Audience participants stated they were not in favor of a band-aid fix for the problem of outdated buildings and equipment.

"It doesn't make good sense to redo what we have," Dunigan said.

"We don't want to lose our school either," Bernard Berry said. "This would affect everyone. Economics are important, and house and properties would go down."

"The board will make a decision and that is up to you," Nowlin said.

The question was asked about building an entirely new K-12 facility between both towns, Black Oak, or in that area.

"We can't build on property outside of our district," Nowlin said.

A question about feasibility of building two new buildings came from the audience.

"We would have to find available land in our district for that," Nowlin said.

"A neutral area would be better," Rhonda New said. "Commercial land is more expensive to build on than farm land."

An employee of Basler Electric commented that Basler agreed to remain in Caraway as long as they retained their school, and expressed fear that the business would move if they lost their school.

"If the school is moved to Lake City, my kids will be looking at another school to attend," Mark Douglas said. "We don't want Caraway to dry up and blow away."

"There are already inequalities," Lori Reames said. "Lake City kids are bussed to Caraway to practice ball, but when games are at Lake City we have to provide our own transportation."

Several from the audience said they were not in favor of seventh and eighth graders going to school with high school students.

"You can have seventh graders and 12th graders in the same building but separate," Nowlin said.

"I don't appreciate that this meeting is called on a church night," Larry Pendergrass said. "We only found out about it today."

The audience clapped.

"Also, if the new buildings were over at Lake City, the first thing you would want to do was build a new gymnasium," Pendergrass said. "We already have a new gymnasium here in Caraway."

"Who could house the 350 students better, with their present facilities, Lake City or Caraway?" Kim Sneed asked.

"Neither one," Nowlin said.

"We have a new gym and a new home economics building here, and they don't at Lake City," Berry said.

"You all are missing the point of all this," Buster Campbell said. "These kids are Riverside, not Caraway or Lake City. This is a Riverside school board, not Caraway or Lake City. We have got to decide what is best for the district, not the towns. I don't care what happens to cities of Caraway or Lake City, the kids are what is important here.

"Monette wants no part of us unless it is going to be at Monette," Campbell said. "We tried to have a school at Black Oak when we were talking consolidation, and Monette would have no part of it. Lake City is growing and Caraway is not. That is just the way it is. Economically, we need to build 7-12 on Highway 18. It's a dream world. We have to think of kids, not towns."

"Buster, you told me that when you build a junior high over there, the elementary will soon follow," Miller said. "And we don't want to lose our school."

"I didn't tell you that," Campbell said.

"Yes, you did," Miller said. "And you told Kenny (Weathers) the same thing. Didn't he, Kenny?"

Weathers nodded his head.

"Are you calling me a liar?" asked Campbell.

"Yes," Miller said.

Miller raised his right hand and motioned to the door, as he and Campbell made their way to the exit. Miller was restrained in the hallway leading to the door, as several men attempted him from leaving the auditorium. As Campbell made his way to the hall, he was also restrained. As Campbell passed Miller, Campbell hit him with his fist. About 25 men were in the hallway keeping the two individuals apart, as arms flailed in the air.

"About the time Buster got past me he sucker punched me," Miller said. "I tried to get to him also, but couldn't. I'm sure many people trying to hold us apart got hit."

Board member Weathers rose from his seat and came to the front of the stage.

"I told you this would never fly," Weathers said to Nowlin.

Nowlin closed the meeting, and called the city police for assistance.

Caraway policeman Toby Rand was on the scene and patrolmen Tyrone Koons also responded. Rand called for backup from the Craighead County Sheriff's Department, and Chris Kelems soon arrived on the scene.

The officers arrested Miller and Campbell, charging them with disorderly conduct and took them in separate cars to the Craighead County Detention Center in Jonesboro. They were both released on their own recognizance and are scheduled to appear in Craighead County District Court at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 12.

No action was taken toward school employee Campbell, by the Riverside board, following the altercation and he resumed duties at the school the following day.

The next regularly-scheduled district board meeting was scheduled Monday night on the Riverside East campus at Caraway.

Please run all four photos if possible:

1. Riverside school superintendent Larry Nowlin opens the public meeting at Caraway for discussion of future improvement plans for the district.

2. Buster Campbell and Hunter Miller are escorted to the Craighead County Detention Center in Jonesboro, in separate cars, following the altercation at Riverside East in Caraway.

3. Hunter Miller is restrained by Dwight Whittenburg and Randal Burcham, along with several other men as he attempted to leave the auditorium.

4. Riverside boys coach Buster Campbell, and Hunter Miller, were transported to the Craighead County Detention Center in Jonesboro following the altercation and charged with disorderly conduct.

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