A1 A1
Planning commission OKs apartments, new cell tower

Efforts to land an apartment complex in Smiths Grove continue to come up short, but two other apartment developments totaling 290 units were approved Thursday by the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County.

In a meeting held in the Bowling Green City Commission chambers, the commissioners also approved an application to build a wireless communications (cellphone) tower in the Oakland community that is expected to improve coverage for former Bluegrass Cellular customers now being served by Verizon Wireless.

The commissioners approved the application of The Hub at Lovers Lane LLC headed by developer David Chandler to rezone 9.86 acres along Hub Boulevard and Cooksey Lane from highway business to multi-family residential.

That rezoning, which will go to the Bowling Green City Commission for final approval, is expected to lead to development of 210 more apartments in The Hub, bringing the total number of apartments in the 103-acre residential and commercial development to 1,030.

The commission barely mustered a quorum for the vote on The Hub application. Only city of Bowling Green and Warren County representatives were eligible to vote on the application under the commission’s new rules. The rezoning passed 4-0, with Christiaan Volkert abstaining because he has a financial interest in The Hub.

Another 80-apartment development was approved Thursday, this one at the corner of Veterans Memorial Lane and Thames Valley Way.

The application of Ralpeshkumar Patel of the Thames Valley Property LLC to rezone 3.9 acres from highway business to multi-family residential will result in a development with a density of 20.52 dwelling units per acre, but attorney Chris Davenport argued that the high density was still a good fit in the area near Preston Miller Park.

“It’s bordered on three sides by high-density residential and on the other side by the park,” Davenport said. “This is a very good infill request.”

The commissioners agreed, first passing a Future Land Use Map amendment 7-0 and then passing the rezoning 5-0. The rezoning will go to the Bowling Green City Commission for final approval.

Another apartment development – this one in Smiths Grove – didn’t fare as well, even on its third try.

An application by Bryan Groce to develop 48 apartments along Stanley Rice Road in Smiths Grove was denied by the commissioners despite Groce’s tweaking of an application that failed in July after being withdrawn in June.

That July application, which called for development of 236 apartments on 12.6 acres, was rejected unanimously in a meeting attended by some two dozen Smiths Grove residents opposed to the plan.

This time, Groce scaled the development plan down considerably.

Attorney Tad Pardue, representing Groce, told the commissioners: “We hope you appreciate that these are two totally different proposals. The overall size and scope of the development was the main reason for denying the FLUM amendment last time.”

Pardue pointed out that the density of Groce’s development was dropped from 19 dwelling units per acre to 13.

As for the other dozen or so acres that Groce still owns in the area, Pardue said his client has no plans to build any more apartments on that property.

Still, some commissioners and Smiths Grove residents expressed concerns that Groce could sell the property to another developer who would put up more apartments.

“It looks to me that if you approve this one you open the door to other developments, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Smiths Grove resident Jim Cushenberry. “There’s no way that would be compatible with what we have in Smiths Grove.”

Groce’s application for a FLUM amendment failed, so the application to rezone the property didn’t come to a vote.

Unlike that apartment plan, the application of Verizon Wireless and property owners Robert Isenberg and Joyce Wiley to put a 250-foot cell tower along Trunk Springs Farm Street near Oakland sailed through without opposition.

Russell Brown, the attorney representing Verizon, explained that the tower will “fill in a gap in this area of the county.”

A document presented with Verizon’s application explained the need for a new tower.

According to the document: “Currently the area is experiencing high demand for wireless high-speed data. Growth forecasts have triggered the need for an additional site in the area. The tower is needed to provide all Verizon customers in the area with the best experience on their 4G wireless devices.”

Planning Commission Executive Director Ben Peterson reminded the commissioners that the second of a series of public meetings regarding updates to the Focus 2030 Comprehensive Plan is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 14 in the Capitol Arts Center.

Peterson said planning commission staff and the discussion panel will be covering current trends in housing, workforce, transportation and other topics at the Dec. 14 meeting.

Convicted in son's death, mother looks to rebuild after release

Clark Cantrell

MORGANTOWN – Clark Cantrell was an energetic young boy who lost his life too soon.

The 4-year-old was found drowned in the swimming pool May 1, 2018, outside the Butler County home where he lived with his mother and sister, along with his aunt, her husband and the child they were raising.

Perhaps no one felt the tragic loss more acutely than his mother, Leanna Cantrell, who had closed on the house on Taylors Lake Road in Logansport about two weeks before tragedy struck.

Cantrell would describe the house as her dream home and the perfect place to start the next phase of her life after a divorce.

Not only was her dream deferred by her son’s death, but Cantrell herself would come under scrutiny, finding herself at the center of an investigation alleging she was responsible for the death.

Once the Kentucky State Police investigation was set in motion, Cantrell, 44, went on to find herself in a courtroom and, later, behind bars.

Before the end of 2018, a grand jury in Butler County indicted Cantrell on a count of second-degree manslaughter, alleging that she wantonly caused the death of her son.

The charge was returned by a second grand jury after a previously convened grand jury declined to indict, according to court records.

The indictment described the wanton conduct as “leaving the child unsupervised when she was aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that doing so would result in the child’s death by drowning.”

Butler County Commonwealth’s Attorney Blake Chambers presented evidence that no barrier had been erected between the pool and the door everyone used to enter and exit the house, and that Cantrell was aware of the risk that posed and failed to address it.

The drowning death occurred in such a manner that Cantrell “knew was rendered substantially more probable by her conduct,” according to the indictment.

At Cantrell’s trial, held in September, Chambers put a finer point on it.

“Ms. Cantrell did not appreciate the substantial and unjustifiable risk that she had known about for weeks, of a pool with no impediments and a child with no one to watch him,” Chambers said during the opening statement of the criminal trial.

Cantrell’s attorney, Alan Simpson, has called Clark’s death an accident, which aligns with the finding of the state medical examiner who conducted the autopsy.

Simpson describes Cantrell as a loving, attentive mother who may have put too much trust in people close to her.

“I’ve gotten to know Leanna over the last 21/2 years and she loves her children more than life itself,” Simpson said last week. “To lose a 4-year-old son in this way has just been devastating and then to be prosecuted for it and have that insult to injury added has just been really hard on her.”

Clark’s life and a father’s warning

With his red hair, Clark Cantrell stood out in a crowd.

Retired circuit court judge Tyler Gill, who attended church with Cantrell and volunteered to supervise her visitations with her daughter following Cantrell’s indictment, remembered Clark as being a particularly energetic child, describing him as a “bullet” when questioned at trial by Simpson.

Clark was diagnosed with autism, and witnesses who lived with him said he seldom expressed himself verbally, which would take the form of one-word requests like “diaper” when he needed a change or “turkey” when he was hungry.

Cantrell said her son enjoyed playing with the toy cars and trucks in his room and watching cartoons.

Cantrell’s housemates testified at the trial that Clark would stay close to his mother, following her around the home and standing at the door when she left the house.

Dustin McGee, who is married to Cantrell’s sister and lived at the home with them, said at trial that he had to grab Clark once when it appeared he was about to walk out the door after Cantrell.

“He was a mama’s boy, that’s for sure,” McGee said at trial. “He’d follow her everywhere if he could.”

One person who testified that the pool appeared to present a hazard was Kevin Cantrell, Leanna Cantrell’s ex-husband.

Kevin Cantrell said Clark was someone you had to “watch like a hawk” because of his energy.

The state of the pool “terrified” Kevin Cantrell as soon as he saw it when he went to pick up the children for a weekend and he communicated that to Leanna Cantrell.

“I said you’ve got to do something about this, he’ll get into it,” Kevin Cantrell said at trial.

Later, his girlfriend printed some materials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about protecting children around swimming pools, and Kevin Cantrell said he presented the papers to Leanna when he met with her at an apartment in Logan County she was in the process of vacating.

“I just kept trying to tell her you got an emergency here, you’ve got to do something because it’s a death trap,” Kevin Cantrell said. “She just yanked them away from me and said ‘I know how to take care of my kids.’ She didn’t want to look at it.”

The divorce proceedings between the former couple came up during the trial, with Simpson questioning Kevin Cantrell about whether he told others he wanted to see his ex-wife obtain a criminal conviction so that her parental rights would be terminated.

Other witnesses confirmed that he related that termination of her parental rights was a goal in the divorce case and he believed a conviction was necessary for that to occur, and on the witness stand Kevin Cantrell agreed in a roundabout way.

“If she actually is convicted of this, that’s the only thing that appears to have any weight in a civil proceeding,” Kevin Cantrell said. “It’s so that I can maintain Kira’s safety. What I want today is justice for my son.”

Tragic morning

On the morning of May 1, 2018, Leanna Cantrell’s alarm went off at 6:45 a.m., she hit the snooze button, but her daughter, Kira, burst into her room a moment later to let her know that Clark had taken off his diaper.

Cantrell then got her daughter ready for school in Russellville and gave Clark breakfast, leaving with her daughter at 7:22 a.m. that day, she told police.

Left behind in the home were Clark Cantrell, Leanna’s sister, Jessica Gray McGee, her husband, Dustin McGee and their child, all asleep upstairs, and Corey Cornwell, a friend of Dustin McGee’s who occasionally stayed at the house while he and his then-fiancee were in between homes.

At some undetermined time after Cantrell left, her son made his way out of the house and ended up in the pool outside, drowning.

After Cantrell herself, Cornwell’s actions that morning came under the most scrutiny.

According to testimony, he and Ashley Cornwell were involved in an argument over text message most of the night after Corey Cornwell had gotten in touch with an ex-girlfriend over social media.

Phone records, which were provided at trial by the defense and were from a phone in Cantrell’s name, show a flurry of activity on Corey’s phone in the wee hours, until 7:15 a.m., when no activity appears on his phone for one hour and 34 minutes.

Chambers argued that the gap in activity indicated Cornwell had fallen asleep, trying to get some rest before a job interview later that morning.

From his place on a pallet in front of the couch in the living room, Cornwell said he could not see into the kitchen where Clark had been left to eat breakfast.

Simpson contended that Cornwell was up and about the home in that time, with Leanna Cantrell testifying that she saw him doing laundry and folding underwear that morning just before he left.

Regardless, it was in that window of time that Clark Cantrell lost his life.

Cornwell provided testimony that likely ended up being pivotal to Cantrell’s conviction.

Cornwell said that at the time he was reluctant to look after another person’s child and that he talked about it with Cantrell a number of times.

“Being around somebody else’s kids in general was a scary idea,” Cornwell said at trial, later saying that he watched Clark once with his fiancee present.

Ashley Cornwell, Dustin McGee and Jessica Gray McGee gave testimony to the same effect.

“He made it clear to every one of us, including Leanna, that he did not want to be alone watching these kids,” Jessica Gray McGee testified.

During his closing argument, Chambers stressed how the testimony of those four witnesses contradicted Cantrell’s assertion on the stand that she never heard Cornwell say he did not want to take care of the children in the home.

“(Cornwell) was asleep on the floor, he was not asked to watch the child,” Chambers said during his closing argument. “This was completely and totally avoidable.”

Simpson seized on Cornwell’s 911 call, in which he told the dispatcher he had just pulled up to the house and learned of the drowning, as evidence of Cornwell’s unreliability.

“This is about leaving your child with someone who your sister trusted enough to invite to your house and that person failing to do just the most simple thing – keep the door locked,” Simpson said during his closing argument.

Cornwell, for his part, said he was frantic when he called 911 moments after Ashley Cornwell discovered the body.

Cantrell testifies

After taking her daughter to school, Cantrell went to an appointment with a financial planner in Russellville to discuss having a retirement account transferred to her.

From there, she got some food from a McDonald’s drive-thru, but had no time to eat it.

“I got the phone call of every mother’s nightmare,” Cantrell testified.

She sped back to the house, where she learned of the tragedy and was questioned by police.

Cantrell said she remembered being so despondent driving back, she thought about crashing her vehicle into a bridge abutment.

Questioned by Simpson about her ex-husband’s contention that she ignored paperwork warning her about the danger of swimming pools, Cantrell gave her account of events.

“He handed me the material, he was almost wanting to stand real close to me and read the material to me and I was like, ‘I can read,’ I know how to take care of my kids and I know what the risks are with the pool because I had been around a pool my entire life,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell recalled talking with Dustin McGee about fortifying the deck surrounding the pool with a wooden gate and a higher railing than what was in place.

They went as far as going to a lumber store to get an estimate for the materials, with Cantrell then going to a credit union to obtain financing, only to be denied, she said.

On the morning of the tragedy, Cantrell said she attempted to go upstairs on three separate occasions to wake up her sister, only to be stopped by Cornwell. When Cantrell told him she was taking her daughter to school, Cornwell’s acknowledgment meant to her that he was going to watch Clark, she testified.

Cornwell reportedly told her the McGees planned to take him to the job interview, while he testified that his then-fiancee was to drive him to the interview.

Cross-examined by Chambers, Cantrell was asked about whether it made sense to leave her son with someone who was due to leave for a job interview later that morning, and Cantrell said she did not know what time the interview was scheduled to occur.

Cantrell said she remembered last seeing Clark in the kitchen and then locking the screen door to the house after leaving, but her daughter, Kira, testified for the prosecution that she recalled seeing Clark at the door as they left.

Chambers also asked Cantrell if she called the house to check on Clark while she was out performing errands.

“I didn’t call anybody to check on Clark because it was my understanding I had left a grown, responsible adult with my son that had been with my son multiple times,” Cantrell said.

Simpson said during his closing argument that the evidence did not show Cantrell would consciously do anything to harm her children.

“She’s not a killer,” Simpson said. “She’s guilty of trusting too many people. ... Leanna did what any reasonable person in her shoes would have done at the time, she trusted someone who her sister trusted.”

Sentencing and release

The jury found Cantrell guilty of second-degree manslaughter after deliberating for about 21/2 hours.

“When the jury came back with the verdict, you could have knocked me out with a feather,” Simpson said.

The relatively short period of deliberation after a three-day trial filled with emotional testimony reflected the strength of the prosecution’s evidence, Chambers would later say.

“In my opinion, the evidence was clear to the jury,” Chambers said last week. “Every bit of the evidence went against her account.”

In the penalty phase, the jury recommended Cantrell serve five years in prison, the minimum penalty for second-degree manslaughter.

The maximum punishment for second-degree manslaughter in Kentucky is 10 years, though Chambers made it clear early in the trial that he did not plan to call for the harshest penalty.

“I don’t think she deserved the maximum sentence, but she deserved to be held accountable,” Chambers said. “In terms of the appropriate punishment, she did lose a child and I think the sentence took that into consideration.”

On Nov. 1, when Cantrell returned to court to be formally sentenced by Butler Circuit Judge Tim Coleman, several of Cantrell’s friends and supporters made a last-ditch effort for probation.

Several people argued that imprisonment for Cantrell would adversely affect her daughter, and Simpson said that her daughter, Kira, has “basically been growing up without a mother” since her brother’s death.

Simpson said that Cantrell posed no threat to society, had never exhibited criminal behavior and that probation would not depreciate the seriousness of the offense.

Simpson called several witnesses to testify on behalf of Cantrell at her sentencing hearing, including her fiance and her church pastor, who all spoke of her attentiveness and care as a mother.

Gill was also called to give a statement in support of probating Cantrell.

“I’ve watched her bring her two children to church on a regular basis,” Gill said. “There’s no question she cared for both of her children. It goes without saying that she has community support. There are very few cases where I have seen the extent of community support that this young lady has, and I have seen her develop it.”

Cantrell also made a plea for mercy.

“There’s nothing more you can do to me that will hurt me more than I am,” Cantrell said. “I lost part of my world on May 1, 2018, when my son went to heaven ... the day he died, I lost my family. I cannot start to heal from the death of my son locked up. I know I cannot do this without some help.”

Coleman decided to follow the jury’s recommendation and imposed the five-year sentence, saying that while the death was a tragedy, Cantrell was presented with information about the danger the pool posed and failed to follow through.

“You took no steps and, frankly, it was your duty,” Coleman said.

Soon after sentencing, Simpson filed a formal appeal of the conviction, but then an unusual development occurred.

Simpson was contacted by Chambers a few days after the hearing, and a discussion ensued with the outcome that Cantrell would be freed.

In an order entered Nov. 10, Cantrell was granted shock probation and immediate release from custody after having spent 53 days in jail.

As part of an agreement, though, Cantrell would remain convicted of second-degree manslaughter and would not pursue any further appeals.

“We believe that there were several errors made during the trial that would have called into question the conviction itself, and in light of that we believe that to be the underlying reason that the commonwealth agreed to have her be released from jail,” Simpson said. “I commend Mr. Chambers for recognizing that she should not be in prison and I thank him for that.”

The agreement to have Cantrell released on shock probation came after speaking with surviving family members and Kentucky State Police Detective Gary Travis, who led the investigation, Chambers said.

In an email sent Wednesday to the Daily News, Chambers said that, while procedural issues were raised about the trial and the Kentucky Court of Appeals could have addressed those, the evidence supporting the conviction would not have been in question.

“In consulting with the surviving family members of the child, I believe it was in the best interest of justice to not litigate these issues for years into the future,” Chambers said in the email. “The victim and his family deserved finality and accountability. ... This case was ultimately about the child and a tragic but entirely avoidable loss of lie. My hope is that this child’s memory will live on in those who loved him dearly, and this case brings awareness to families in our community which may save lives of children we thankfully will never hear about.”

Cantrell, who has worked a series of factory jobs after her career as a licensed practical nurse was interrupted when she was charged, now has an opportunity to rebuild.

“As disappointed as she was with the jury verdict and even being prosecuted, Leanna feels she’s gotten part of her life back because now she can be a part of her daughter’s life and we are hopeful that she can return to some type of work in the health care community,” Simpson said.

German Shepherd Gunther VI wears a faux diamond collar as he sits on the grounds of a house formally owned by pop star Madonna, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Miami. Gunther VI inherited his vast fortune, including the 9-bedroom waterfront home once owned by the Material Girl from his grandfather Gunther IV. The estate, purchased 20 years ago from the pop star, was listed for sale Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Beshear touts support for ag tech during visit to WKU's SmartHolstein Lab

Suited up in plastic booties, Gov. Andy Beshear sidestepped stray cow pies Thursday as he toured the dairy farm facilities at Western Kentucky University’s SmartHolstein Lab, which receives state funding to study and refine genetic traits that optimize milk production.

Stopping in Bowling Green for several events connected to the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, Beshear got an up-close look at the lab’s capabilities.

Just off Nashville Road at the WKU Agriculture and Research Center, the lab uses wearable “Fitbits for cows” to track important biometric data correlated with milk production. The cattle also rest on a giant mattress aimed at maximizing comfort and minimizing stress.

“I actually think the mattress that these cows sleep on is better than mine,” Beshear joked Thursday.

As a gaggle of local government and WKU dignitaries dogged Beshear all along the way, the cows looked on blankly, here and there reaching out in an attempt to gnaw on a photographer’s camera.

At the end of the tour, Beshear paused to offer his take on the facility’s operations.

“This is an incredibly exciting tour because it shows that we are on the cutting edge,” Beshear told several reporters.

Appearing alongside Beshear, state Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, echoed that sentiment and opened her remarks by describing herself as the daughter of a beef farmer and the granddaughter of a dairy farmer.

“This kind of genetic research and technology is going to benefit not just southcentral Kentucky but the entire world,” Minter said, stressing the pride she feels to be a faculty member at WKU and to represent Bowling Green in the Kentucky House.

In terms of resource consumption, dairy production has the highest environmental footprint by far.

A 2018 study published in Science estimated that dairy produces about three times more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based milk. Dairy production is also much more land-use intensive, requiring generally nine times more land than any plant-based alternative.

Water use is also high for cow’s milk, requiring more than 600 gallons of water for every gallon of milk produced.

Still, agritech is one of Kentucky’s most important sectors, and Thursday’s appearance was an opportunity for Beshear – who recently filed for reelection in 2023 – to signal his support for the industry.

“We are seeing a world where water is drying up (Fresno, Calif.,) and the West Coast. We are seeing a growing world population to where we have to innovate. We have to increase our yield. We have to increase the amount of milk production,” he said, emphasizing that it’s not just scientific advancement for the sake of scientific advancement: “This is incredibly important for the future of our country and the future of our world.”

Law enforcement deliver holiday gift cards to needy families

What began decades ago as an effort by police to raise money for indigent prisoners in the county jail continued Saturday as members of the local Fraternal Order of Police delivered holiday gift cards to needy families throughout Warren County.

For Robbie Perry, president of FOP Bowling Green Lodge 13, it was a welcome break for law enforcement, who he said often show up on the worst days of a person’s life.

“Generally, when the police come to their house, it’s not a good day,” Perry said, adding that police often have to deliver bad news or assist people who’ve just been victimized by crime. “This is where we’re hoping to show the good side of the police.”

Gathering in the parking lot of the Warren County Justice Center on a chilly Saturday morning, representatives from the Bowling Green Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies collected lists of addresses and gift cards for deliveries throughout the county.

Organizers said the pandemic has somewhat hampered their ability to fundraise, but with the help of Warren County residents, local businesses, the American Legion and Auxiliary Post 23, and the Aeolian Lodge 51 Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the program persists.

In the era of COVID-19, the familiar holiday family food boxes have been replaced with $70 Meijer gift cards for each family to use for their seasonal shopping.

This year, the local FOP is supporting dozens of families. On Saturday, its members set out to deliver gift cards. About 40 recipients live within the Housing Authority of Bowling Green.

Ken Merideth, a longtime member of the local FOP, said the program began many years ago when BGPD Officers John Cook and Martin Scott were moved by some of the men behind bars at the county jail. Seeing that the men were weeping because they had no way to feed their families, officers at the jail took up a collection and donated the proceeds to the men. That’s where the FOP’s Family Food Basket Program for the Holidays got its start, Merideth said.

Several local law enforcement leaders were on hand to assist with the deliveries Saturday, including BGPD Chief Michael Delaney and Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower.

“I’ve been an FOP member for almost 20 years now and they’ve always provided great support for our community … This is going to help a lot of people during the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Delaney, who was joined by his young son. “I’m showing him how important it is to give back to your community.”

“It’s a good way for us as law enforcement to connect with folks and show them that we’re not always out there doing all the regular police work,” Hightower said. “We have another side to us, and it’s giving back to our community in a lot of different ways.”