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Damir Zlatovic

Wes Swietek / WES SWIETEK/wswietek@bgdailynews.com  

Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower tabulates votes Thursday at the Warren County Courthouse as part of a recanvass of the results of the Nov. 5 election.

Warren County's gubernatorial vote unchanged in recanvass
 Will Whaley  / 

Results from the recanvass of the Warren County gubernatorial votes showed no changes Thursday, leaving Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin trailing Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear by 1,131 votes, according to the cumulative report of the unofficial county results.

Bevin conceded the governor’s race at a news conference in Frankfort on Thursday afternoon, just as the statewide recanvass was being completed. Unofficial recanvass results showed the exact tally as on Election Day: Beshear led with 709,890 votes to Bevin’s 704,754.

In Warren County, Beshear totaled 18,249 (50.8 percent) votes, with Bevin winning 17,118 (47.65 percent). Libertarian candidate John Hicks had 558 (1.55 percent) votes in the county.

“There was no change in Warren County,” Warren County Clerk Lynette Yates said. “All the tabulations have been done. We had several checks and balances there and all of the totals came back the same as they were on election night.”

Yates explained the recanvassing process for her office.

“When the polls close, the machines print three tapes,” Yates said. “Two are brought back to our office by the election officers and one is posted at each precinct. Then, what we do for the recanvass, we will tabulate the tapes. We read off each race and each vote count and at the end we add them all up and check them with what we call the cumulative report. We check those vote counts against that report and it gets the manual tabulation, too.”

Yates said the recanvass process is a good thing.

“I think every candidate should be able to request that,” she said. “Our voter machines are very secure – there is nothing that is internet-involved in the tabulation part of it. It is all uploaded at the end of the night, so there is no way to corrupt any of the data. The computer we use is solely for elections. It is not used for anything any other day of the year, so I feel good about our process. … This is probably the largest, most responsible part of the job that we have and we want to make sure everything is correct.”

Yates said new equipment solely for absentee voting was used this election before the same type of equipment was purchased for the entire county.

“It is a more compact system, so it is easier to get out to the precincts,” she said. “From reading on other systems we felt the best about this machine.”

Beshear set for ‘next chapter’ as Bevin concedes in Kentucky

FRANKFORT – Republican Gov. Matt Bevin conceded to Democratic archnemesis Andy Beshear on Thursday, putting an end to Kentucky’s bitterly fought governor’s race and setting the stage for divided government in a GOP stronghold.

Bevin, an ally of President Donald Trump, made the dramatic announcement outside his Statehouse office on the same day election officials across Kentucky double-checked vote totals at the governor’s request. Bevin, trailing by several thousand votes, acknowledged the recanvass wouldn’t change the outcome.

“We’re going to have a change in the governorship based on the vote of the people,” Bevin said at the news conference.

Promising Kentuckians that “we won’t let you down,” Beshear said later in the day that he’s ready to help build the “next chapter” of Kentucky’s future.

Looking ahead to dealing with a GOP-led legislature, the governor-elect urged policymakers to find common ground and to “civilly disagree” when they can’t.

“If we can work together on the areas that we agree on and we can cut down on the rhetoric in the areas that we don’t, there is a significant amount that we can get done,” he said. “I believe that the areas that are so important for Kentucky, for instance the health and the education of our people, aren’t partisan at all.”

It was a subdued scene as members of Bevin’s administration watched the pugnacious governor graciously wish Beshear – the state’s attorney general – well in his new role.

His concession capped a nearly four-year rivalry that dominated Kentucky politics. Beshear, wielding his authority as the state’s top lawyer, challenged a series of Bevin’s executive actions during their terms. Their feud spread to the campaign trail and a series of bare-knuckled debates this year.

“I truly want the best for Andy Beshear as he moves forward. I genuinely want him to be successful, I genuinely want this state to be successful,” Bevin said.

Beshear thanked Bevin for promising a smooth transition.

Last week’s election results showed Bevin trailing Beshear by more than 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast, for a lead of less than 0.4 percentage points. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said in a statement that Thursday’s recanvass of vote counts left the final margin at 5,136 votes. The State Board of Elections is scheduled to meet Nov. 21 to certify the vote totals.

Calling for unity after the divisive campaign, Beshear said Kentuckians share more in common – regardless of party affiliation – than “any national divisions can ever pull us apart.” He appeared at the news conference with his running mate, Lt. Gov.-elect Jacqueline Coleman.

“Whether you voted for us or not, we are here to serve you,” Beshear said at a press conference at the Kentucky Education Association headquarters. “We’ll work every single day to earn your faith, to earn your trust.”

Bevin vowed not to publicly undermine or second-guess Beshear’s actions once his rival becomes governor.

“I am sure there will be things I’m excited by and have complete agreement with, and there will be things that I will probably be on the other side of the equation with, and this is the way things are,” Bevin said.

In the days after the Nov. 5 election, Bevin had steadfastly refused to concede while hinting, without offering evidence, that there had been “irregularities” in the voting.

Bevin, however, faced a growing chorus of state Republicans urging him to accept the results of the recanvass unless he could point to evidence of substantial voter fraud.

Beshear said Thursday that the election was “fair and clean.”

Beshear, the son of a former two-term Kentucky governor, had already declared victory and has been preparing to become governor in December.

The Kentucky contest was watched closely for early signs of how the impeachment furor in Washington might affect Trump and other Republicans heading into the 2020 election. Bevin railed against the impeachment inquiry and illegal immigration in trying to nationalize the race, while Beshear kept his focus on state issues such as education, health care and pensions.

Beshear’s upset win gives Democrats a victory in a state that had been trending heavily toward Republican in recent years.

Beshear followed a disciplined campaign style focused on what he termed “kitchen table” issues while capitalizing on Bevin’s penchant for making enemies of teachers and other groups. The new governor-elect avoided talking about Trump, impeachment or other polarizing national issues that risked energizing his opponent’s conservative base.

Trump loomed large in the race as Bevin stressed his alliance with the Republican president in TV ads, tweets and speeches. Trump carried Kentucky by a landslide in winning the presidency in 2016 and remains popular in the state. The president took center stage in the campaign with his election-eve rally in Lexington, the state’s second-largest city, to energize his supporters to head to the polls for his fellow Republican.

But the combative Bevin was unable to overcome a series of self-inflicted wounds, highlighted by a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state’s woefully underfunded public pension systems. Beshear effectively exploited the feud, branding Bevin as a bully.

BG man in overdose case receives 18-month sentence
 Justin Story  / 

Tasha Holley sought justice for her daughter, Kiloisha, who she lost in 2017 to a drug overdose.

In U.S. District Court in Bowling Green on Thursday, Holley opened up about the impact Kiloisha Holley’s death had on her and confronted Damir Zlatovic, who admitted to selling the Opana pill that was then crushed and snorted by Dragan Petrovic and Kiloisha Holley on April 22, 2017.

Holley, 21, of Bowling Green, passed out after taking the drug at Petrovic’s apartment and never regained consciousness. She was pronounced dead the next day.

“I would give my life to have my daughter back,” Tasha Holley said. “I would do anything just to hug my daughter, she was just getting started with her life. ... It’s time to hold (Zlatovic) accountable for that one pill that took one life.”

Zlatovic, 31, of Bowling Green, had pleaded guilty to federal charges of knowingly distributing oxymorphone and possession of firearms while an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

He accepted a plea agreement in which he would not be held criminally responsible for Holley’s death.

On Thursday, Zlatovic was sentenced by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Greg Stivers to 18 months in prison.

Federal prosecutors sought a 10-year prison sentence for Zlatovic.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jo Lawless said the Opana, a powerful semi-synthetic opioid painkiller, was a significant factor in the cause of Holley’s death.

A state medical examiner ruled that Holley’s death was caused by multiple drug intoxication and a toxicology report showed the presence of Opana, Xanax, alcohol and THC in Holley’s system, though Opana was the only drug present above therapeutic levels.

Holley graduated from Warren Central High School with honors in 2013, where she played basketball.

She went on to attend Western Kentucky University, but Tasha Holley said in court Thursday that her daughter had struggled in the last few months of her life with a miscarriage and with the stresses of college.

Zlatovic was charged originally in state court with drug trafficking counts, but the case was dismissed after he was indicted federally.

Prior to being sentenced, Zlatovic said he was affected by a drug addiction at the time. While the case was pending, Zlatovic completed a stint in a rehab facility and has remained sober.

“Addiction hurt me and hurt the people around me,” Zlatovic said. “Going forward, I plan to use the knowledge I have acquired to become a more productive member of society.”

Zlatovic’s wife and the supervisor at the trucking company where he worked as a dispatcher also spoke on his behalf at Thursday’s sentencing hearing.

Attorney Alan Simpson, who represented Zlatovic, requested a sentence of time served or probation, arguing that law enforcement should have held Petrovic accountable for Holley’s death and that a search of Zlatovic’s house yielded little in the way of illegal drugs.

“Damir did sell the pill, but he was not a gun-toting drug dealer and he was not a danger to the community,” Simpson said. “Mr. Zlatovic has realized his addiction was ruining his life and these things have far-reaching consequences.”

Zlatovic had pleaded guilty last year, but withdrew his plea on the day he was set to be originally sentenced.

Had the case gone to trial, federal prosecutors would have attempted to prove that the Opana directly caused Holley’s death, and Zlatovic would have faced at least 20 years in prison had a jury convicted him as charged.

Stivers voiced reluctance at following Lawless’ recommendation of a 10-year sentence, saying that there had been no admissible evidence from a qualified expert to show that, but for taking the Opana, Holley would not have died.

The judge did note, however, that the pill was a “significant factor” in causing the death.

“There is no question that Mr. Zlatovic needs to be punished for selling this pill,” Stivers said. “His sentence needs to deter other people from selling these pills to one of their friends, because these pills can kill you.”

Kentucky Downs expansion holds promise for Franklin
 Don Sergent  / 

FRANKLIN – Mason Barnes and Larry Dixon felt like big winners Thursday at Kentucky Downs, and the ponies weren’t even running.

Barnes, the Simpson County judge-executive, and Dixon, the Franklin mayor, were on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony that they see as a sure bet that the horse racing and entertainment venue will continue to provide plenty of horsepower for the local economy.

New Kentucky Downs owners Ron Winchell and Marc Falcone of the Kentucky Racing Acquisition group held the ceremony to kick off a $25 million expansion and renovation of the venue that opened in 1990 as Dueling Grounds Race Course.

The partners, whose purchase of Kentucky Downs was approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in February, are planning to add 18,000 square feet to the facility – nearly doubling it – while increasing by 20 percent the track’s current workforce of about 300.

Such numbers conjure up sounds of ringing cash registers for Dixon.

Standing near the backhoes and other heavy equipment that have already started preparing the site, the mayor said: “This is a huge event. This expansion of Kentucky Downs will bring a lot more people to Franklin. I know our downtown shop owners are excited.”

As is Barnes.

“We really appreciate this investment in Franklin and Simpson County,” he said. “Kentucky Downs is probably the largest draw for tourism in Simpson County.”

Visible from Interstate 65 and just a few furlongs from the Tennessee border, Kentucky Downs has become a destination for many in the Nashville area who may come for the live racing on the European-style (all turf) track in the fall, but mostly come for the electronic Historical Horse Racing machines that have fueled the venue’s growth in recent years.

Since the introduction of the HHR machines, betting on racing at Kentucky Downs has increased from $20 million in 2010 to $800 million in 2018, leading to growth in the purses offered during the five-day fall meet.

Hoping to continue building on that growth in HHR gaming, the new owners are planning to add 13,000 square feet of gaming space and increase the number of HHR terminals to 1,200 – nearly double the current number.

R.T. Browning, a consultant to the Kentucky Racing Acquisition group, said the remaining 5,000 square feet in the expansion will be for “ancillary” additions such as expanded food offerings and entertainment.

The expansion, expected to be completed by next summer, will be followed by a remodeling of much of the interior.

“The owners recognize that they can improve the product for the customers,” Browning said last month when plans for the expansion were unveiled at a meeting of the Franklin-Simpson Planning and Zoning Commission. “They see the potential for this track.”

Winchell, a partner in Lexington’s Winchell Thoroughbreds, said as much at Thursday’s groundbreaking.

“We just wanted to make it bigger and better and add to the workforce,” said Winchell, who operates more than 20 gaming locations across Nevada.

Falcone, who has served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Nevada’s Red Rock Resorts and Station Casinos, hinted that the growth might continue.

“This is really the next phase of growth for Kentucky Downs,” he said. “We’re excited to see what the future brings.”

The KRA group headed by Winchell and Falcone purchased Kentucky Downs from Kentucky Downs Partners, which had owned the track since 2007.