Kay Lorraine Pascoe, 72

Born December 21, 1945

Died November 18, 2018

Dorothy A. Byers, 88

Born May 30, 1930

Died November 18, 2018

Louis Lee "Lou" Wheeler, 86

Born May 5, 1932

Died November 16, 2018


Our death notices and obits are always free to the families and funeral homes.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018, 8:44 AM

One person is dead after a single-vehicle wreck in Keefeton, just south of Muskogee, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The victim’s name is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin.

The wreck occurred at the intersection of US 64 and 20th street around midnight. The 2005 Chevrolet Impala was headed south on the highway and left the roadway to the right, striking a culvert, continuing south, vaulting over 20th Street. The vehicle was airborne for 157 feet, then flipped on its roof and caught fire.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene.

The cause of the wreck is not yet known.

UPDATE Oct. 31, 8 a.m.: The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has identified the driver, Gabriel Rodriguez, Hispanic male, age 19, of Oktaha.

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Monday, October 29, 2018, 5:30 AM

Three days remain for registered voters in Muskogee County to apply for absentee ballots to be mailed to them for the November 6 general election, County Election Board Secretary Kelly Beach said.

Applications for absentee ballots must be received by the County Election Board no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday, October 31 to be processed in time for the election.

Absentee voters may apply in person at the County Election Board office or may send their applications by mail, fax, or e-mail. An online version of the form may be filled out and submitted electronically at

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Monday, October 29, 2018, 5:21 AM

Michael J. Ingram, 46, of Tahlequah was injured on Sunday after the motorcycle he was riding struck a deer, according to a report from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Ingram was southbound on Carey Lane, about a mile south of US 62, around 3:30 in the morning on his 1999 Harley-Davidson, when the motorcycle struck a deer in the roadway.

Ingram was transported to Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, where he was admitted in stable condition with leg injuries.

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Friday, October 26, 2018, 4:54 AM

Every winter for the past 25 years, the city has decorated Honor Heights Park with hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights and, starting after Thanksgiving, the cars line up to go through and look at the decorations.

In the past, the tour was free, with donations accepted at the end of the drive.

But this year, the city — at the suggestion of Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson — will charge $5 per car, even though the attraction has always ended up netting positive cash flow through donations. “Oversize” vehicles will cost $10.

According to one official who asked to not be named, the Garden of Lights generates an average of $1 per car, with some donating more, some not donating at all. Some estimates of revenue collected were as high as $60,000 per season, with more than 300,000 people seeing it. The city published a release on the Garden of Lights yesterday and mentioned the $5 per-car charge, but did not give a reason why the formerly free attraction — paid for with taxpayer dollars — is no longer free for citizens.

Although the event has never lost money, the city’s release stated “Admission fees will help sustain, preserve and grow the Garden of Lights.”

Monday nights will still be free, according to the release.

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Thursday, October 25, 2018, 11:34 AM

The Muskogee Medical Foundation, in conjunction with St. Francis Muskogee Hospital Auxiliary and the OSU Institute of Technology Nursing Dept. will host their annual “Boo on the Flu” on Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Honor Heights Park in Muskogee.

The 24th annual “Boo on the Flu” is a free drive-through flu shot clinic open to the public. Shots are given on a first-come, first-served basis to those 18 and older.

Shots will be administered in the arm, and participants will be required to sign a consent form before receiving an injection.

Participants are encouraged to enter the park from Okmulgee Avenue onto Honor Heights Drive into the main parking lot in the Park.

The flu shots are free, but donations will be accepted for the Muskogee Medical Foundation or the St. Francis Muskogee Hospital Auxiliary.

Other sponsors for the event include Muskogee Parks and Recreation, Love Bottling, Muskogee County EMS and St. Francis Muskogee.

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Thursday, October 25, 2018, 7:29 AM

The family of a girl severely injured at a Muskogee daycare have sued the daycare center.

The suit alleges that, on Aug. 9, the six-year-old girl arrived at Champions Daycare in good health “with her face and skull intact.” While at the daycare, the girl suffered “severe and perhaps permanently disfiguring wounds to her face.” The wounds include “a fractured orbital bone (the bone surrounding the eye), damage to roots of her teeth, contusion to the inside of her mouth and a severe disfiguring gash to her upper lip.”

The suit further alleges that Champions neglected to provide adequate supervision and that once they became aware of her injuries, they didn’t call 911. Instead, the daycare’s director, Opal Jimerson, transported the girl in her personal vehicle to an urgent care center.

The suit goes on to name the Department of Human Services (DHS), stating that it supervises and regulates the daycare, finding numerous violations of state rules for daycares, yet taking no disciplinary action against the daycare. Some of the violations included deficient supervision, an open gate where children could walk out into the street, a kitchen knife easily accessible by poorly-supervised children, an open mop bucked accessible to the children and uncertified or under-certified workers.

The day after the girl was injured, DHS found that Champions lacked adequate supervision. DHS later erased that opinion without explanation.

You can read the lawsuit here.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018, 7:39 AM

Derek Todd Olsen

Derek Todd Olsen, 47, of Muskogee is charged in Muskogee County District Court with multiple felonies after an alleged altercation involving his then-girlfriend and a neighbor, according to documents filed with the case.

Olsen is charged with felony kidnapping, felony domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, felony domestic assault and battery by strangulation, domestic abuse - assault and battery, malicious injury to property, and two counts of threatening to perform an act of violence from an event on Sept. 12 at 911 Choctaw Street. Olsen is accused of forcing his girlfriend to remain at that location, holding her down and holding a knife to her throat while threatening to kill her, then stabbing the couch directly beside her head, according to the case. He is also accused of strangling her. In addition, Olsen is charged with punching her numerous times in the face and head, and with destroying her cell phone. Olsen is also accused of telling neighbor Tony Blevins he was going to kill him while holding a knife.

Olsen has a lengthy criminal conviction history dating back to 1989, including robbery with firearms, kidnapping, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, driving under the influence multiple times, possession of controlled drugs, possession of a firearm after former conviction of a felony, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a stolen vehicle, unauthorized use of a vehicle, possession of a firearm after former conviction of a felony, and escape from a penitentiary.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018, 1:38 PM

James M. Stewart

James M. Stewart, 40, of Muskogee was charged today in Muskogee County District Court with first-degree rape by force or fear - a felony.

Stewart is accused of forcing the woman to have sex with him on Oct. 21, according to documents filed with the case. On that date, around 3 in the morning, Stewart is alleged to have used force and violence to force the woman, whose name is being withheld, to have sex with him around 2900 N. 32nd Street, according to the court documents.

He is being held in the Muskogee County Jail on a $50,000 bond.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018, 9:01 AM

This Sunday, Muskogee’s second-annual Schnitzel Stampede brings weiners to the dog park from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The Bark Park, 1101 S. Second Street, is the host for the event, which includes contests, door prizes, artists, vendors, food trucks and lots of dogs.

This year will also include wiener dog races, according to co-organizer Holly Rosser-Miller.

To get more information or register, click here.

Tickets are $5 per dog, and all humans are free. Dogs other than dachshunds are also welcome, and will have their own area to enjoy while the sausages squirm around together. All proceeds from the event benefit The Bark Park, spaying and neutering efforts at Muskogee Animal Control, and Kids’ Space Child Advocacy Center.

If you want to come out a little early, the food trucks will be serving food starting around noon.

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Monday, October 22, 2018, 10:32 AM

A 16-foot red trailer containing supplies for hurricane relief was stolen in Oktaha, according to the trailer’s owner, Niki Neal, who runs the Save Yourself Survival store there.

“We worked all week” gathering the supplies, Neal said. The trailer was supposed to leave tomorrow to distribute the supplies.

The trailer has a white Punisher skull sticker on the back, as well as Save Yourself Survival stickers on the back and front and a National Guard tag.

If you have any information about the trailer’s whereabouts, call 918-629-6713.

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Monday, October 22, 2018, 6:16 AM

The Cherokee Nation donated $10,000 to the town of Okay to help with the construction of a new basketball court at the community’s first park.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan presented the check to town officials late last week and also viewed the new playground equipment the town recently installed at Mustang Park.

Okay Preservation Committee President Johnny Walker said the new park adds another source of pride to the small town in Wagoner County as well as provides a nice recreational area for its youth.

“What this park means to the community of Okay is two things, number one is that we are proud of our community and number two is health and wellness for our children, and we appreciate the Cherokee Nation for making that possible,” Walker said.

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Monday, October 22, 2018, 6:06 AM

Chad Renner

Wagoner County officials charged former volunteer firefighter Chad Renner with child molestation after a boy told Kids Space workers he’d been molested.

A court affidavit states the district attorney’s office received a call from Kids Space in Muskogee on Sept. 6 about a mother who had brought her three children into their office saying she believes her children had been sexually assaulted.

When the DA’s office met with the mother, she said her 10-year-old son had told her about sexual acts that “Unlce Chad” had done to him. The child said they’d been going on for a long time.

The mother said Renner’s wife was her best friend, so when Renner lost his job five months prior, she let the couple move into her house.

During an interview with the child, he told workers the sexual acts happened in the bathroom or bedroom multiple times.

The investigator interviewed the woman’s other two children, six and eight years old, and believed they had not been molested. On Sept. 7, evidence was collected at the home to be tested.

Renner was called into the police department four days later to be interviewed. He denied all the allegations. He is currently in custody at the Muskogee County Jail.


Friday, October 19, 2018, 7:19 AM

Eugene Tapahe was awarded the 13th annual Cherokee Art Market’s Best of Show for his black and white collage features 44 compelling photos taken at Oceti Sakowin Camp in Standing Rock, ND. The images were printed on archival watercolor paper using a lithograph print process.

Navajo artist Eugene Tapahe received the Best of Show award for “Never Forget Standing for Unity” at the 13th annual Cherokee Art Market at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.

The black and white collage features 44 compelling photos taken at Oceti Sakowin Camp in Standing Rock, ND. The images were printed on archival watercolor paper using a lithograph print process.

The Cherokee Art Market, featuring more than 150 elite Native American artists representing 50 tribes, ran Saturday and Sunday. Art forms included beadwork, pottery, painting, basketry, sculptures and textiles. Guests also enjoyed a variety of cultural demonstrations and performances.

With nearly 60 winners in eight classes, the following highlights the Cherokee Art Market 2018 Best of Class winners:

Class 1 – Painting, Drawing, Graphics & Photography

Eugene Tapahe, Navajo Nation, “Never Forget Standing for Unity”

Class 2 — Sculpture

Troy Jackson, Cherokee Nation, “Faith in the Creator”

Class 3 – Beadwork/Quillwork

Ken Williams Jr., Northern Arapaho/Seneca, “Beauty in Dreams”

Class 4 – Basketry

Leona Romero, Tohono O’odham Nation, “Unity Friendship Design”

Class 5 – Pottery

Autumn Borts-Medlock, Santa Clara Pueblo, “Chaco Parrott with Egg”

Class 6 – Textiles B

Phil Singer, Navajo Nation, “Clouds Above the Mesa”

Class 7 – Jewelry

Ric Charlie, Navajo Nation, “Ladies Gold Diamond Set”

Class 8 – Diverse Art Forms

Glenda McKay, Ingalik-Athabascan, “Morning Sun”

Additionally, Martha Berry earned the Culture Keeper Award for “Sageeyah Gold: Honoring the Pollinators & the Humans Who Protect Them.” The Innovator Award went to Billy L. Hensley for “Imoshi,” and Lisa Rutherford earned the Anna Mitchell Award for “Dragonfly Dance.”

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Thursday, October 18, 2018, 7:14 AM

Cherokee Nation and Muskogee County leaders recently gathered to celebrate the ribbon-cutting on a Fort Gibson road project.

Cherokee Nation committed $125,000 to the Donkey Lane project, which included a 2-inch asphalt overlay.

Along with the asphalt overlay, the project included the repair of drainage issues along Donkey Lane, replacement of drainage pipes, patching and other repairs.

“I’m proud that the Cherokee Nation is able to assist our community partners in improving area infrastructure,” said Tribal Councilor Mike Dobbins, of Fort Gibson. “This 2-mile road improvement will increase the lifespan of Donkey Lane for many more years.”

In fiscal year 2018, the Cherokee Nation contributed $2.8 million in tribal funds to improving more than 54 miles of road within the tribe’s 14-county area.

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Thursday, October 18, 2018, 7:13 AM

The Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System is now able to offer veterans the option to make their own appointments in the following services without a referral from their primary care provider:

  • Audiology
  • Optometry
  • PACT Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
  • PACT Social Worker
  • Podiatry
  • Tobacco Cessation
  • Wheelchair/Amputee Services

The goal of this initiative is to improve clinic access, reduce wait times, and enhance veteran care and satisfaction, according to the VA. If successful, the process may roll out to other specialties.

Veterans can call 1-888-397-8387 to schedule an appointment.

Another new program called ‘Fast Track to VA Cancer Care’ is also available for Veterans with active cancer who are not yet enrolled in VA by calling 1-833-309-1349.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018, 9:06 AM

After US Rep Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) challenged Democrat lawyer to a physical fight, Mullin’s challenger for the Second District congressional seat said the incumbent representative should be focusing on issues that affect Oklahomans, not on who can beat whom up.

“While he spends his days prodding people on social media, his fellow Oklahomans are struggling with real issues,” challenger Jason Nichols said. “Health care costs, Hunter, threats to Social Security, concerns over Medicare and Medicaid, Oklahoma’s public education system, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate access to high-speed Internet; the list goes on.”

Mullin is a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, and challenged lawyer Michael Avenatti to meet him “on the mat” after Avenatti challenged Donald Trump Jr. to a “three-round mixed martial arts fight,” with proceeds going to charity. Avenatti represents adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Nichols is a popular mayor in Tahlequah and former educator there.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018, 8:56 AM

Jonathan Reed Wray

Jonathan Reed Wray, 36, of Muskogee is charged in Muskogee County District Court with allegedly assaulting an emergency medical worker who was trying to draw his blood after a reported assault.

Wray was being worked on by medical personnel when police arrived at the scene, 300 Rockefeller Dr. (the Saint Francis emergency room), on Oct. 11 at around 5:15 p.m.

Jason Garner, a medical staffer at the hospital, was attempting to draw blood when Wray is alleged to have head-butted him on the left side of his face, according to an affidavit filed with the case. Wray allegedly told Garner he had “already tried fifteen times” to draw blood, but a security guard in the room said Garner was on his second try at the time.

Wray has a long criminal conviction history, including second-degree robbery, assault and battery on a police officer, domestic abuse - assault and battery (second or subsequent offense), assault with a dangerous weapon and multiple drug and other arrests.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 2:34 PM

Carl Kelley, owner of Jackson Hewitt franchises in Muskogee, is collecting supplies for hurricane victims after witnessing the devastation firsthand during a management summit there.

“Our team will be leaving early Saturday morning,” Caitlynn Casey said. “Things that we often take for granted such as toiletries, infant necessities — formulas, diapers, wipes — canned foods, water. Additionally, anyone who would find the most convenience in making a monetary donation can be assured it will be used to buy the necessities before leaving Muskogee.”

Donations can be made to the Muskogee office at 2117 Chandler Road from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday or by calling Casey at 918-348-6658 to arrange a drop off time Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 10:59 AM

State Rep. Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) is presented the Friend of Retired Educators Award by Oklahoma Retired Educators Association President Polly Christian and Finance Chair Matti Palluconi at the association’s annual convention.

State Rep. Avery Frix recently received a Friend of Retired Educators Award from the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association at its annual convention Oct. 3 in Oklahoma City.

The award was given for Frix’ courage, dedication and leadership in advancing the group’s cause of education retirement security, the group said. Frix was one of only two to receive the award.

Frix, who represents Oklahoma House District 13, this year authored House Bill 2985, which would have given retired teachers a 4 percent cost-of-living increase. The bill ultimately failed in the Senate, but Frix said he will revisit the issue in the next legislative session.

Frix also supported House Bill 1340, which gave stipends to state retirees, including teachers, police officers. Stipend amounts depend on a retiree’s years of service and the funding status of the retirement plan of which they are a member.

In addition, Frix supported a teacher pay raise that gave an average of $6,100 pay increase to all Oklahoma public school teachers.

The OREA works with state legislators to protect the Teachers Retirement System.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 10:55 AM

Nominate your favorite veteran as grand marshal for the 15th Annual Muskogee Veterans Parade to be held Saturday, Nov. 10.

The Muskogee Veterans Parade Committee is accepting nominations until Friday. There is no word limit and the veteran can be from any war era. Be sure to include the veteran’s rank and where he or she served.

Send your nomination to Joel Everett c/o Muskogee Parks and Recreation, 837 E. Okmulgee, Muskogee, 74403 or you can email nomination to

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Monday, October 15, 2018, 11:08 AM

Rumors that have been circulating around Muskogee about a veteran committing suicide in the VA Medical Center parking lot are premature, the spokeswoman for the VA said.

“A male was found unresponsive in our parking lot on Oct. 7 at 12:38 pm.,” Nita McClellen, public affairs chief, said. “VA Police were notified and our Emergency Department immediately responded to the parking lot where he was pronounced dead. The medical examiner’s office was notified and took custody of the body. Cause of death is unknown at this time but there are no evident signs of suicide. We are working with local authorities to notify the family.” does not cover suicides unless they’re committed in public or the victim is a public figure. A public parking lot counts as a public place.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018, 3:03 PM

Luke T. Dennis, 29, of Muskogee was found dead today around 10 a.m. by drowning in the Arkansas River, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Dennis entered the water at an unknown time and date. The Muskogee Sheriff’s Office has been looking for him since he went missing.

A private plane spotted his body in the water and volunteers found him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

UPDATE: The Sheriff has released the following statement: (note, Officer CB Abel’s name is misspelled below):

At around 10:00am this morning, crews with the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office located the body of Luke Dennis in the Arkansas River. Luke has been missing since his truck was located stuck in the Braggs area of Muskogee County early this week. On Friday, crews began searching the area on foot and after nightfall with drones with night vison capability searched from the air. This morning crews began the search on foot and Officer Able from Muskogee Police Department using his personal plane on his personal time came out and searched from the air. Able located the body of Dennis approximately 4 miles south of where the truck was located and lead search teams to his location. The cause of death is unknown and the medical examiner is investigating. The Sheriff’s Office does not suspect foul play. Members of the Tulsa Fire Department, Oklahoma Task Force one, Muskogee County Emergency Management, Reserve Deputies with the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office, and Officer Able of the Muskogee Police Department were instrumental in locating Luke Dennis. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol responded and are now investigating the death as a drowning.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018, 2:57 PM

A man died in a Muskogee road last night, according to Muskogee police.

A witness saw a man lying in the middle of the road at Junction and Elgin last night. The witness stopped to check on the man, who was unresponsive.

A car coming down the road struck the man lying in the road.

When police and EMS arrived, the man was dead.

Police are waiting on a report from the medical examiner before determining whether the man was dead before the car hit him.

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Friday, October 12, 2018, 2:57 PM

Nick Mahoney of the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office sent the following release:

The Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office is asking for the public help in locating a missing person. Luke Dennis, 29, of Muskogee is missing after his vehicle was located stuck in the Braggs area of Muskogee County. Luke was last seen on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at around 3:30PM. Luke knocked on the door of a home in the area of 8600 E 63rd St South, explained his vehicle was stuck, asked to use the phone, and called a wrecker.

Upon the arrival of the wrecker, they were unable to locate the vehicle or Luke. However, his gold and silver Ford F-150 was located today (10/12/2018). Luke was last seen wearing tan shorts, a grey t-shirt with a “FILA” logo on the front. One of Luke’s shoes was located at the scene and it believed he still has the other on.

Luke is a white male, 5 foot 8 inches, 180 pounds, blonde hair, and blue eyes.

His cell phone is going straight to voicemail and attempts to “ping” the phone’s last known location are underway. Family and friends say this is out of character for him and he sticks to a normal routine. Luke has no known health, mental health issues, or legal issues.

Luke lives in the City of Muskogee and we are still attempting to determine why he was in the Braggs area.

This is a current and active investigation and nothing has been ruled out.

The public is asked to call the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office at 918-687-0202 if you have seen or heard from Luke Dennis.

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Friday, October 12, 2018, 9:47 AM

Edward Jones, an brokerage company that boasts six Muskogee locations, is facing a multimillion dollar class action lawsuit for allegedly gouging customers by suggesting investment products that benefit the company, rather than the clients.

The suit, filed in April, alleges that investors were charged unnecessary fees in a “reverse churning” operation. The alleged scheme moved mostly dormant accounts into a fee-based system, where a commission-based model would have better served the clients, the suit alleges. The fee-based programs were proprietary products that the plaintiffs allege concealed the fact that they benefitted the brokerage more than commission-based programs.

The plaintiffs, who describe themselves as “unsophisticated investors,” are bringing the case on behalf of a class of Edward Jones clients who saw their commission-based accounts migrate to a fee-based model from March 2013 through March 2018.

The plaintiffs allege the practice propelled a 36 percent increase in the firm’s “asset-based fee revenue due to the increased investment of client assets into advisory programs”, including $17.2 billion in fees. The firm earned record amounts of money in the five years of the class period.

Edward Jones has acknowledged the suit and said it will “vigorously defend” against it.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018, 9:07 AM

Virgil Glen Seay

Virgil Glen Seay, 51, is charged in Muskogee County District Court with first-degree robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and maiming after an altercation in which his brother allegedly ended up with a shattered left eye socket and a gash across his forehead, according to court documents.

On Oct. 3., Muskogee County deputies were called to 3110 Burbank in reference to a domestic dispute. They found Randy Seay next door to the residence, “bleeding profusely from the head and face area,” according to an affidavit filed with the case.

Randy Seay told police his brother, Glen, assaulted him, pulled down his pants and stole $200 from his pocket. The next day, while being interviewed at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Randy Seay told police Glen hit him with a 2x2 wooden board around three feet in length.

Police report Randy sustained a large cut on his forehead around four inches in length and that his left eye socket was shattered, both injuries possibly resulting in permanent disfigurement.

Virgil Seay has previously been convicted of domestic assault and battery by strangulation, for which he received seven years in prison; assault and battery with intent to kill, kidnapping, and possession of firearms after former conviction of a felony, for which he received 10 years in prison; domestic assault and battery, for which he received a year in prison; cruelty to animals for which he received five years in prison; and omitting to provide for a minor child, for which he received four years in prison.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018, 9:01 AM

Muskogee Little Theatre has filed a lawsuit in Muskogee County District Court against Dickmann Glass, PT Enterprises and RB Weatherman Masonry for almost a million dollars, alleging the three contractors did shoddy work resulting in water leaks every time it rains.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday, asks for $929,790 and possible additional damages, alleging that the glass and windows around the glass of the storefront windows and doors was not installed “with reasonable care and skill,” resulting in leaks that damage the inside of the facility.

The three contractors were subcontracting for M. Ross Incorporated at the time, the lawsuit states.

The facility, at 311 S. Third St., has been open since October 2016 after the City of Muskogee Foundation footed most of the multimillion dollar bill to construct it. Dickmann has “made a number of superficial efforts to remedy the water intrusion issues,” the suit states. It goes further to state that investigation has “revealed that improper design, installation and construction” were the cause of the problems.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018, 9:23 AM

Paul Turnpaugh, 70, of Braggs drowned in a pond in Braggs last night, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Turnpaugh’s wife reported she was unable to locate him for some time, then found him partially submerged in a pond on their property on E. 63rd Street around 7:30 p.m.

He was under two feet of water, the patrol reported. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was not wearing a personal flotation device.

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Monday, October 8, 2018, 11:22 AM

Around 15 miles south of Muskogee, Keefeton is a sleepy town with little more than a couple of convenience stores, a church and a fire department. Drivers headed south toward Warner often notice a helicopter sitting on the east side of State Highway 64 — a helicopter belonging to a private company, Tulsa LifeFlight. The helicopter is used to transport ambulance patients by air to hospitals.

The company leases the helicopter pad from the Keefeton Fire Department, which is owned by Muskogee County after it converted from a private nonprofit to a county-owned fire department around a decade ago. The conversion, covered in Title 19 of Oklahoma law, means the fire department became county-owned, and therefore subject to all state laws regarding county entities.

Speck Plunkett, the Keefeton fire chief, expressed confusion about who owned the department.

“We’re not a county-owned department,” he said today. Then, when asked if the fire department was organized under Title 18, which governs private nonprofit fire departments, or Title 19, which governs county-owned fire departments, he said “Oh, we’re Title 19. Absolutely.”

Eastern Oklahoma Development District Director Ernie Moore confirmed that Keefeton Fire Department is a county-owned Title 19 department.

The problem, however, is that the lease between Life Flight and Keefeton does not go through the county, either in bidding or revenue. Specifically, the money paid to the fire department by Life Flight does not go through the county treasurer. Instead, it goes into a private bank account.

“Well, it goes into our general fund,” Plunkett said. “Our board of directors takes care of that. It doesn’t go through the county. It’s not a county-owned fire department.”

When asked to provide a copy of the lease agreement, Plunkett referred to Tony Burress, the department’s chairman of the board, who has not returned calls for comment.

The department, like many across the state, petitioned and was approved to shift from a private entity to a county-owned entity so its members could participate in the county pension fund. The department receives county funding and benefits from a tax specifically for it. State law does not provide for county-owned fire departments to have private bank accounts. In fact, an audit report by the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector on another fire department in the same situation explicitly proclaimed:

Upon becoming a Title 19 fire district, the District can no longer operate independent of the County. Accordingly, there would be no authority for the District to possess bank accounts outside of the County.

Any money collected by the fire district “should be deposited with the county treasurer,” the audit report continues. In addition, any payments made by the district “should be made through the county clerk, utilizing purchase orders ... and ultimately approved by the county commissioners.”

In addition, the report states that Title 19 fire districts can’t lease or rent any property without first going through the county — and being competitively bid, and that revenue from those agreements must go through the county.

“Like I say, the fire department has had its own account for years,” Plunkett said. “If that’s the case (that all money must go through the county), every fire department in Muskogee County is going to be that way.”

Plunkett could not provide a list of other fire departments that maintained accounts and made lease agreements outside of county oversight.

Stephen Wright, the county commissioner over the Keefeton department, said he had no idea anything like that was going on.

“I know they are Title 19,” he said. “I thought all we (the county) was in charge of was basically the sales tax.”

Wright said he will discuss this issue with District Attorney Orvil Loge tomorrow.

Ultimately, money collected from the helicopter pad lease should, according to state law, be subject to public records inspection, as should any money being deposited into or paid out from any bank accounts belonging to the district. So far, access to those records has not been provided.

UPDATE 11:35 A.M.: Burress called back and said the helicopter lease figures were not immediately available, but would be tonight.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018, 7:20 AM

After a story brought statewide attention to the issue, State Rep. Avery Frix and State Sen. Dwayne Pemberton have pushed for the state to investigate claims that Jess Dunn Correctional Facility Chief Romon Jones was favoring gang-related inmates and risking the security of the staff and residents of Muskogee and surrounding areas.

In that initial story, we reported officers complained that Jones “palled around” with inmates, especially those associated with the Bloods street gang. He was also accused of changing officers’ reports to favor inmates, telling officers they were lying when inmates contradicted them, allowing illegal cell phones and drugs to circulate throughout the prison and using inmates to do work for his personal home, among other allegations.

This week, Frix and Pemberton interviewed one of the officers who was making complaints, and they reached out to the Department of Corrections, which informed them that Jones has now been suspended with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the matter.

Jones called, but first put a female on the phone, who did not identify herself as an employee or friend of Jones. The female first asked for the identities of the people quoted in the story and indicated she might have more to add. When the identities were not given, she handed the phone to Jones, who said he had faced similar allegations at other prisons before, but that he couldn’t comment without talking to his attorney first.

At least a dozen former employees and co-workers of Jones have reached out to MuskogeeNOW since that story ran, repeating the same allegations from either Jess Dunn or the prisons where he has worked before.

“That is the same thing that was going on at LARC several years ago — from 2008 to 2012,” one former coworker said. LARC is Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, a prison in Lexington. “Jones was a lieutenant, but promoted to captain. He was known for the same behavior, but the chiefs at the time turned a blind eye, as did the warden. He was constantly palling around with the Bloods and caused dissension between inmates of other racial groups, as well as the staff. His practices were to give breaks to those Bloods he was in daily contact with and to penalize those outside his group, specifically those of the Aryan Brotherhood.”

Jones denied any affiliation with any gangs, and offered that he was also not guilty of bringing contraband into a prison, an allegation that did not appear in the story.

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