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WKU cancels spring break, will end semester one week earlier

With widespread COVID-19 vaccinations not expected until the middle of next year, Western Kentucky University announced this week that it will cancel its usual spring break, opting instead to end the semester one week early.

WKU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Cheryl Stevens announced the decision in a campus message Tuesday as a recommendation from a campus reopening taskforce.

“The Big Red Restart Academic Affairs and Inquiry Taskforce met last week and agreed that the spring 2021 semester should be scheduled without the usual spring break week in order to minimize the possibility of a COVID-19 flare-up on campus,” Stevens wrote in the message.

Classes for the spring semester will begin Jan. 19 following Martin Luther King Jr. Day and end one week early, Stevens wrote. Final examinations will fall during the week of April 26-30, but the format of those exams has not been determined, she wrote.

Commencement celebrations honoring fall 2020 and spring 2021 graduates are planned for the weekend of April 30 to May 1. Commencement celebrations for spring 2020 graduates, which were disrupted by the pandemic, will instead take place May 7-8.

Asked about students’ preferences for spring semester classes, whether they be completely in-person, remote or a mix of both, Stevens cited a recent survey that drew responses from some 2,000 students.

“Most had a preference for one or the other but were OK with a mix of modalities. Bottom line is that we should be offering a reasonable mix to accommodate student preferences,” Stevens wrote in an email to the Daily News.

Asked about how faculty can specify which format they want to teach in next semester, Stevens wrote: “Faculty have been informed by their respective department chairs and heads to review their spring course offerings and indicate any changes to the course modalities to be updated in the schedule.”

Spring semester registration begins Oct. 19.

Since July 1, WKU has reported a running total of 675 COVID-19 cases, according to its online case dashboard at wku.edu/healthyonthehill.

The number may well be higher given that data from the Barren River District Health Department is not consistently available.

Similarly, the University of Kentucky announced last month that it would forego its own spring break. A university news release said the change is meant to encourage students to remain on campus as much as possible to avoid spreading COVID-19.

Local candidates answer questions on race, COVID-19

Local candidates participated in a series of forums at Next Level Church on Thursday night where the main focus was racial inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event was hosted by the Bowling Green-Warren County NAACP, Black Leaders Advocating for the Community and the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission. All three forums were moderated by Saundra Ardrey, an associate professor in the department of political science at Western Kentucky University.

Contenders in the Kentucky District 20 House election, the Bowling Green mayoral election and the Bowling Green City Commissioner election were all present at the event that was closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns and streamed online.

First up was the District 20 House of Representative forum that featured incumbent Bowling Green Democrat Patti Minter. Minter’s independent challenger Leanette Lopez did not participate.

In her opening statement, Minter said what she is most proud of during her time as District 20 representative is that she consistently “shows up” and “stands for the people she represents.”

When asked why someone in the African American community or in a minority community should vote for her, Minter pointed to her time lobbying for the restoration of voting rights before she took office and to how she recently co-sponsored Breonna’s Law, which bans no-knock warrants.

“I recognize that equity means that we need to have more action and more listening to people in the black community to make sure that we have positive outcomes for everybody,” Minter said.

She was also asked if she had any new, innovative ideas if reelected to office. Minter responded that she is in full support of raising the minimum wage, and that it is “past time” that Bowling Green created more jobs that had a living wage.

Concerning the current pandemic, Minter complimented Gov. Andy Beshear and said he “saved lives” with his decisionmaking over the last few months.

“We need to do one simple single thing. Wear a mask,” Minter said on the subject of COVID-19. “We know that wearing a mask protects you and it protects other people.”

In her closing statement, Minter urged the public to exercise their right to vote and that she is the only candidate in her race that has shown up for all three forums that have taken place in Bowling Green this election season.

The Bowling Green mayoral candidate forum followed after a short break. Todd Alcott, Chris Page and Tom Morris were present.

Alcott is the only mayoral candidate who will be on the November ballot. Page and Morris are running as write-in candidates.

All three are running for the chance to replace Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson who dropped out of the race in early September due to personal issues.

In their opening statements, Morris said that he wanted to bring a “new tone” to the office, Alcott pointed to his 21 years of service in the military and how he is already “knee deep” in the community, and Page said that he wanted to “kick up some dust” on racism and bigotry.

All three candidates spoke at length on race relations in Bowling Green.

Page said that if elected, he would work directly with police departments while reaching out to young people, as the task of defeating racism is not a one-person job.

“I am running on racial unity,” Page said. “Any time discrimination rears its ugly head, the mayor of Bowling Green needs to confront it with unity.”

Alcott used peaceful protests seen in Bowling Green during this year’s Juneteenth holiday as an example of how the community came together during a time of civil unrest.

For Morris, he sees housing and pollution as two major root causes of inequity.

Different from the other two candidates, the subject of climate change was Morris’ main point of emphasis during the event.

The subject of a fairness ordinance in Bowling Green was also of great interest during the mayoral forum. Morris and Page were in support of the ordinance, but Page pointed out that the ordinance would need to be carried out fairly if implemented.

Alcott was the only one of the three candidates to oppose a fairness ordinance.

“I look at this from a biblical perspective,” Alcott said. “My church has its doors open to every single person – all sinners, including me. We are all the same at the foot of Jesus. What I am trying to say is that I am not here to make judgment, nor am I here to imply judgement. And so I am not going to support the fairness ordinance.”

The final forum of the night concerned the city commissioner race. Out of the 10 candidates running for office, six attended: Carlos Bailey, Francisco Serrano, Dana Beasley Brown, W. Paul Carter, Brian “Slim” Nash and Melinda Hill.

Nash and Brown were the only incumbents present. Fellow incumbents Joe Denning and Sue Parrigin did not take part.

Challenging candidates Rick Williams and David Witty also were not present at the forum. Each candidate brought a unique perspective in their opening statements.

Nash said that he wanted to continue to build upon what he has done in his previous 12 years of being city commissioner. He said that he was someone who “doesn’t play it safe” but is also not reckless politically.

Carter said he knows what discrimination is like as a gay man. He wants the city of Bowling Green to move forward when it comes to issues of poverty and fairness.

Poverty was also a major point of emphasis for Brown, who said she grew up in poor surroundings. She is running once again for city commissioner as she wants to make sure Bowling Green stays responsive and “meets the current moment.”

Hill is once again returning to the city commissioner race after not seeking reelection in 2016. Hill said that she wants to once again bring her experience back for the good of the city.

The decision to run for newcomer Serrano is a very personal one. On March 30, 2016, his cousin Giselle Arias was struck and killed on Gordon Avenue. Ever since then, Serrano has fought for improving safety in the city.

“We fought for months to get a stoplight placed there,” Serrano said. “We need to take leadership in this city seriously, and that’s why I’m running.”

Bailey said he is running to serve the people as he personally knows what it’s like to be poor, and that he is committed to supporting projects that build for the future and attract new jobs in Bowling Green.

Anna community to get road improvements

Two rural Warren County roads that connect to Ky. 185 (Richardsville Road) will soon be getting much-needed improvements, thanks to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Rural and Secondary Roads.

Warren Fiscal Court, at its Sept. 25 meeting, approved an agreement with the KYTC that will provide $251,484 for repaving sections of Anna-Sandhill Road and Lodge Hall Road.

A 3.267-mile stretch of Anna-Sandhill Road from Ky. 1320 to Ky. 185 will get the new asphalt, as will a 2.806-mile section of Lodge Hall Road from Ky. 185 to Threlkel Ferry Road.

Funds for the repaving are coming through the flex funds account of the Rural Secondary Program, which is funded by 22.2 percent of the state’s motor fuels tax revenue.

These funds are used for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of secondary and rural roads in each county.

Warren County Fifth District Magistrate Mark Young, whose district takes in the Anna and Richardsville areas, said the flex funds will be going to two roads that need the help.

“Anna-Sandhill Road is about the longest road I have in my district,” Young said. “A lot of people live on that road. Both of these roads are narrow and crooked.”

Young said the county has to set priorities to determine which of its many rural roads will get the state funding for resurfacing.

“We get calls frequently asking when we’re going to blacktop certain roads,” Young said. “We don’t have enough funds to do all of them.”

Wes Watt, public information officer for the KYTC’s District 3 office in Bowling Green, said Warren County won’t receive any additional flex funds this year.

Young said work on the two roads in the Anna area can proceed as soon as the KYTC’s Department of Rural and Municipal Aid releases the funds.

“We’re waiting on release of the flex funds,” Young said. “Then it (resurfacing) should start right away.”

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trumps nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., not pictured, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP)

Cheryl Stevens

Jury convicts Ficklin on murder, robbery counts in 2017 slaying

Vincent Bernard Ficklin was convicted Thursday afternoon on counts of murder and first-degree robbery in connection with the shooting death of Timothy Massey.

A 12-person jury sitting in Warren Circuit Court deliberated for nearly four hours at the end of the six-day trial before returning guilty verdicts on both counts.

Massey, 41, of Bowling Green, was found by the Bowling Green Police Department on Feb. 12, 2017, in a house at 127 W. 15th Ave., dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Investigation determined that he had been shot two days earlier.

Ficklin, 48, of Franklin, was accused of killing Massey and then leaving in Massey’s Ford Expedition, which was recovered abandoned in Tennessee along Interstate 65 near the Alabama state line.

Ficklin was arrested in Mississippi on Feb. 19, 2017, on a warrant charging him with attempted murder and other counts in connection with a shooting that occurred Feb. 9, 2017, in Simpson County.

Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said during his closing argument to jurors that shell casings recovered from the incidents in Franklin and Bowling Green tied Ficklin to both crimes.

A Kentucky State Police firearms analyst testified that his examination of the shell casings showed them to have been fired from the same unknown weapon.

A cellphone belonging to Ficklin, surveillance footage from a number of Bowling Green businesses and a GPS monitor on Massey’s vehicle were used by police to track Ficklin’s movements in the hours before and after the shooting that took place in what Cohron described as a “trap house” in which drugs were sold and used.

“Vincent Ficklin had a complete disregard for human life,” Cohron said. “He shoots into an occupied vehicle in Franklin, meets with his drug-dealing friends to go to Bowling Green, kills Timothy Massey and takes his vehicle.”

Through examining Ficklin’s cellphone activity, police determined that Ficklin left the West 15th Avenue house in the early morning hours of Feb. 10, 2017, and traveled north on Interstate 65 before turning around at Horse Cave and driving into Tennessee, where Ficklin contacted his girlfriend and asked her to drive up from her home in Alabama to pick him up.

Cohron said Ficklin’s travels from Bowling Green demonstrated that he was “panicked” and trying to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Ficklin’s court-appointed attorney, Jason McGee of the Department of Public Advocacy, attempted to shift blame away from Ficklin during his closing argument to jurors.

McGee urged the jury to consider the testimony of Donnie Flippin, who was in the house on West 15th Avenue on the night of the shooting and was arrested the following day in Simpson County during a drug bust.

Flippin did not notify police of the shooting, and surveillance footage from various businesses shows him walking to the Home Towne Suites on Mel Browning Road after leaving the West 15th Avenue house.

Two witnesses who traveled to the house later on the morning of Feb. 10, 2017, testified to seeing a man who looked like Flippin rush out of the house to meet them.

Police interviewed Flippin five times after he was arrested, and found him to have made a number of false statements about his whereabouts and about other details.

“He didn’t acknowledge even being there,” McGee said. “Then when he felt the noose tighten, that’s when he changed his story and blamed Vincent.”

McGee noted that DNA analysts with the Kentucky State Police and a private lab in Pennsylvania failed to find Ficklin’s DNA on clothing that Massey wore when he was shot, and suggested that Flippin or one of his criminal associates had motive to kill Massey, reminding jurors of testimony from witnesses suggesting that Massey was a police informant.

Flippin testified that he heard the gunshot while lying on a bed in the house and went into the kitchen to see Massey struggling for his life, and then saw Massey’s vehicle exit the driveway.

Cohron said during his closing argument that Flippin’s untruthfulness with police was an extension of his background as a drug dealer.

“Should (Flippin) have called the police? Of course,” Cohron said. “But he’s a drug dealer. Drug dealers don’t call the police, even if you’ve left your friend dead ... he’s in his dope house – in his world, you don’t call the police.”

Jurors will return to court Friday to hear evidence in the penalty phase of the trial and determine a sentence for Ficklin.

Vincent BERNARD Ficklin