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UPDATE: Officer dead after Big Stone Gap shooting; suspect arrested in Kingsport
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BIG STONE GAP — A Big Stone Gap police officer died hours after he was shot responding to a call early Saturday, and Kingsport police arrested a suspect in a Lynn Garden Drive motel.

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said a 33-year-old male from Big Stone Gap was arrested without incident at the Travel Inn by the Kingsport Police Department Patrol Division, Criminal Investigations Division, and SWAT Team officers shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday.

The suspect in Officer Michael Chandler’s death is being held on probation violations out of South Carolina and Wise County. His identity had not been released as of late Saturday.

Geller confirmed that Chandler died at Johnson City Medical Center around 7 p.m. of wounds after he was shot at a vacant home in the Cadet section of Big Stone Gap around 4 a.m.

Several Southwest Virginia police and sheriff’s departments posted their condolences on social media to Chandler’s family before the official VSP announcement.

“Mike’s loss will be felt by our town and across all of Wise County,” Big Stone Gap Police Chief Stephen Hamm said Saturday. “Not only did he serve as an officer with the Town of Big Stone Gap Police Department, but also as a volunteer with the Big Stone Gap Fire Department. Please keep his family in your prayers tonight, as this should have been a day to celebrate his 29th birthday — not a day to mourn his passing.”

Local, state and federal authorities are still investigating how Chandler was shot after making a welfare check at what was supposed to be a vacant house in the 2500 block of Orr Street.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said he and investigators would be reviewing the charges that will come out of what turned into a murder investigation. Capital murder was changed to aggravated murder and the death penalty was repealed during the 2021 General Assembly session, he said, but aggravated murder still carries a maximum life sentence.

The U.S. Marshals Service announced its offer of a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Chandler’s assailant, followed by an additional $10,000 offer by Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine Saturday afternoon.

“Ballad Health will add another $10,000 to the reward offered by the (Marshals Service) for the capture of the thug who shot the officer,” Levine tweeted.

Chandler had been asked by someone around 4 a.m. to check at the vacant Orr Street house, according to Geller. Chandler arrived at the scene and encountered at least one person before he was shot.

A Wise County Sheriff’s Department deputy found Chandler lying in a ditch near the house’s driveway along with a pickup truck and Chandler’s patrol vehicle.

A nearby resident said her yard security camera showed ambulances and police vehicles heading to the area around 4:15 a.m.

Rifle-toting WCSD Response Team deputies blocked traffic on Main Avenue to Orr Street early Saturday morning, telling motorists that it was “a hot scene.”

A VSP crime scene team arrived around 9:30 a.m. and investigators were still mapping the site and collecting evidence at the single-story frame house at the junction of Orr Street and Main Avenue in the afternoon.

The incident caused Big Stone Gap officials to cancel a scheduled Veterans Day parade Saturday.

Slemp joined state troopers for a brief press conference earlier in the day, conforming only that “an active investigation” was continuing. He also declined to say how many suspects were being sought or had been identified but said homes around the scene were not evacuated.

Asked if Chandler were wearing body armor when shot, Slemp said he could not talk about details of the investigation.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the Virginia State Police at (276) 228-3131, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office at (276) 328-3756 or email to questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

The VSP, U.S. Marshals Service, WCSD and Big Stone Gap Police Department are investigating the shooting.


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“Just Off The Wilderness Road” takes listeners on historical path with musical guide

By MIKE STILL

mstill@timesnews.net

ROSE HILL — Jason Davis said he had a couple of songs in his pocket when he had the idea of telling a story about Lee County’s history.

A couple of years later, that project grew into a compact disc covering 250 years of heritage along Daniel Boone’s trail through the county and across Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee and Kentucky.

Davis, the fifth generation running his family’s landscaping and nursery business, gets to see much of that heritage from the steps at Davis Brothers Nursery, including the white rocks that Boone used as a landmark when leading groups of settlers through the Cumberland Gap and westward.

But other landmarks are tied to more recent times, and Davis joined forces with more than 20 musicians in three states — including his son Jack — to assemble music and stories about those landmarks and their lasting impact on life in the Cumberland Gap region.

“Jack is the No. 1 fan of this project and he wants to visit every single thing that is on this,” Davis said.

The CD, “Just Off The Wilderness Road: Songs of the Cumberland Gap,” includes 16 tunes touching on subjects from the death of Boone’s son and the Tennessee Valley Authority to a 500-pound moonshiner, a tale of the supernatural, and a rail tunnel that brought Davis’s Great Uncle James and his wife together.

Davis credited the Lee County Historical Society and the Board of Supervisors with helping fund the project, the proceeds of which now benefit the Historical Society. The CD’s 35-page booklet is important not only because it explains the background of the songs, but it tells how many the sites still exist if one wants to visit, he added.

During an impromptu hike to the old Hagan rail tunnel through a mountain to Kentucky a few miles away from Davis’ business, he told how that tunnel in the 1920s and ‘30s changed many Lee County residents’ lives.

“This L&N tunnel that came through the mountain was really an earth-shattering thing for the people in these communities because suddenly you were able to go to work a little easier,” Davis said. “There are so many people in this area whose families are interconnected with people from Harlan, and that wouldn’t have happened if the tunnel hadn’t been built. You had this exchange of cultures going on that would have gone on because of that tunnel being built.”

Part of that exchange — the subject of the song “Court Kentucky Girls” — indirectly explains how Davis’ great uncle met his wife.

“They met traveling through this tunnel, and so that’s where the idea came from for this song,” Davis. “That’s the kind of the thing on this project that is a little unique to other areas of the world.”

“Bouncing Bertha” tells the story of 9-year-old Bertha Sybert and her apparent bewitchment that caused her bed to shake uncontrollably. Davis said the story gained national attention because of local journalist Virgil Q. Wacks and his ability to get stories on the national wire services. Bertha’s story faded from national attention after an investigation by two East Tennessee State University professors, and she died 48 years later in Surry County, Virginia.

“Aunt Haley” recounts the legend of Hancock County moonshiner Mahala Collins Mullins, whom a local sheriff described as “catchable but not fetchable” because of her medical condition that brought her weight to 500 pounds. “The Ballad of James E. Rains” draws from the names of Confederate soldiers burned into the ceiling of Gap Cave in Cumberland Gap.

Those songs and others all derive from locations and structures still existing in the region, Davis said, making “Just Off The Wilderness Road” as much a tour guide as musical experience. Photographer Harold Jerrell has contributed to the project through his collection of photos in the region, many of which help detail places in the CD booklet.

“There are a lot of stories in this area, and this is a good way to enjoy a history lesson if you enjoy the music,” said Davis. “There are people, places and events throughout time and throughout the tri-state area.”

For more information on “Just Off the Wilderness Road,” visit https://justoffthewildernessroad.com/Main/Welcome.html/


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Bringing back the Virginia-Kentucky Opry: Radio station returning Norton venue to regular live performances

By MIKE STILL

mstill@timesnews.net

NORTON — Four decades ago, it was the women’s section of Cohen’s Department Store. Almost three decades ago, it was the Virginia-Kentucky Opry with Saturday live music broadcast on radio station WAXM-FM. In recent years, it was the Park Avenue Theater, showing movies.

In 2021, Adam Sturgill and Ben Foy want to return the building to a live music venue.

Sturgill, WAXM’s program director, and station morning show host Foy have been working on bringing live acts to the 226-seat downtown auditorium, with its bare-brick interior and what the two say are pretty good acoustics and an intimate setting for performers and audience alike.

Ralph Stanley II came to the theater a week ago, and Sturgill said it was a good combination of local demand for Stanley’s music and the kinds of regional acts that will fill the building.

“We’re in about five or six shows now,” said Sturgill. “Ralph II has a pretty good following, and that was one of our premiere shows, one that we’d looked forward to for some time. Of course, we’re going to crawl, then walk, then run, so we’re going to try and do a show per month.”

Dec. 11 will bring the Kings Messengers to the Park Avenue Theater stage at 6 p.m. for the group’s Christmas show, Sturgill said.

“Every dime of that show will go to the Hurley flood victims,” said Sturgill. “We’re going to try and do everything we can for them and hope to do other events in the future not just for us but do things for the community as well.”

Admission to the benefit show is $5 with children 12 and under admitted free.

“When we first got started, it was during the height of the pandemic where things started easing up a little bit,” said Foy, who emcees the theater shows. “For a lot of the artists, this was their first stop. They hadn’t been on stage in a long time, and being a small venue with a small crowd works into right what they needed to get the rust off and get back on stage.

“Just about anybody who comes here says, ‘I want to come back,’ ” Foy added.

Foy said the theater also offers a good place for other kinds of gatherings, and Sturgill said the Barter Theater and local arts organization Pro-Art have also held performances there.

Sturgill said Norton’s downtown development in the past two decades has helped make the Park Avenue Theater an even better destination not only for local residents but for folks from the Tri-Cities area. Several restaurants are within a short walk from the theater, Sturgill said, and Norton is less than an hour’s drive from Kingsport or Abingdon.

“We’re at a good little intersection here where we can catch a lot of bands that may be traveling up to the Mountain Arts Center or may be traveling south to play a show on the weekend in Asheville and other places along there,” Sturgill said. “U.S. 23 runs right along all of that. Once people come here and see what we have to offer, I think they’ll certainly come again.”


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Watch Now: Back to scratch: Nick’s set for new building with additions, improved ingredients

KINGSPORT — The owners of Nick’s Family Restaurant plan to continue the eatery’s 83-year-old legacy at its upcom- ing location on Memorial Boulevard — with a few additions.

The new Nick’s site is currently under construction with a projected completion date set for March 2022. But when the building is complete, the new Nick’s will feature an indoor-outdoor bar with space for live music as well as a to-go entrance and more seating and parking space.

“We’re so excited,” Nick’s co-owner Victoria Harville told the Times News. “We have been working on this for almost three years. We’re trying to offer some new things.”

The site is located between the newly built Harville Orthodontics building and Rowe’s Pharmacy on Memorial Boulevard, across from the Fort Henry Mall.

The 3,000-plus-square-foot building will seat about 90 customers inside, with room for about 50 guests on the patio, Harville said. Though the restaurant will offer alcohol and new menu items, Harville said Nick’s will keep its focus on what the restaurant is best known for: its golden fried chicken and classic burgers.

“We’re keeping the same original recipes,” she noted. “It’s the same chicken, same slaw, same potato wedges. We have had the same recipes since 1938. We haven’t changed that.”

The only difference, Harville said, is the restaurant switched to organic chicken and grass-fed beef after the Harvilles bought the restaurant about three years ago. The eatery offers those same menu items in addition to breakfast, smoked-in-house barbeque, biscuits, homemade desserts, and more. The business also introduced more health-conscious items like grilled chicken dinners, salads and wraps, among other items.

But before new menu items were added and plans for the new building were drawn, the owners aimed to implement more made-from-scratch foods true to what Nick’s first offered.

“We found some of Nick’s old recipes and he made everything from scratch,” Harville said. “We took it completely back to that, to where everything is now. That was really important to us.

“When we bought it a few years ago, we wanted to make everything from scratch. People told us we couldn’t do that and restaurants can’t be profitable doing that. They kind of laughed at us. We were young and they didn’t really get the idea of what we were trying to do.”

The Harvilles enlisted the help of Greg Saunders, who is now Nick’s restaurant manager. Saunders has helped the old Kingsport eatery keep its made-from-scratch items while developing plans for healthier menu items and a new Nick’s experience.

“We want people to come for a restaurant experience, not just because of Nick’s fried chicken,” Saunders said. “We want to incorporate an entire experience. It used to just be ordering at the counter. We want it to be a full dining experience with the best cocktails, good wines, a great outdoor patio, live music. It’s going to be an entire experience.”

Nick’s is the oldest restaurant still in operation in Kingsport. For years, the restaurant has operated out of its current location on Sherwood Road. The restaurant’s owners plan to bring to the new location the red “Why Cook Tonight?” letters that have adorned the side of the current building for years.

No matter what new features the restaurant will offer at the future site, Harville said, the Southern food staples that have brought customers to Nick’s for more than 80 years will remain at the forefront.

“It’s so important to keep it as it has been,” Harville said. “It’s been around since 1938. It’s the oldest still-functioning restaurant in Kingsport. Nick made it famous for his roasted chicken, potato wedges and slaw. We haven’t changed a thing on that. And it’s so important to us that we don’t.”

Nick’s Family Restaurant is located on 1916 Sherwood Road. For more information, call (423) 247-8601 or (423) 247-7071 or go to https://www.nicksrestaurantandcatering.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/nicksfamilyrestaurantkpt/.


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