Greene County sheriff’s deputies responding Monday morning to a house fire at at 5770 Old Stage Road discovered an indoor marijuana grow operation in an upstairs bedroom and closet.
The fire about 10 a.m. Monday heavily damaged the two-story house. One of the owners, 59-year-old David Wayne Hinkle, was later charged with delivery or sale of a controlled substance, possession of a Schedule VI drug and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Hinkle’s wife, Terri Hinkle, said outside the house as firefighters extinguished the fire that her husband was not home at the time it started. When David Hinkle returned, his wife said, he ran inside the house to look for family pets.
Hinkle suffered unspecified injuries and was treated at the scene by Greene County-Greeneville EMS and then taken to Greeneville Community Hospital East. He was charged by sheriff’s deputies with the marijuana-related offenses when he was released from the hospital, Deputy Justin Lilly said in a report.
Terri Hinkle was not injured, and the family pets were all accounted for, firefighters said. Fire investigators determined a heat lamp in an outside dog house started the fast-moving blaze.
The house and contents are valued at $200,000.
Deputies on scene were notified by firefighters of a possible indoor grow operation, the report said.
They found 22 waist-high marijuana plants and three unidentified stalks in an upstairs bedroom and closet.
A grow tent and four lighting fixtures were also removed from a bedroom, the report said.
After all plants were removed from the house, a shelving unit next to the grow operation was searched. It held two plastic bags containing a total of nine grams of marijuana, a plastic bag containing 14 grams of marijuana seeds, a glass pipe and a safe, according to the report.
Deputies asked the Hinkles “what type of plants they had in the bedroom.”
“Both owners denied any knowledge of plants,” the report said.
The safe held a car title belonging to David Hinkle, along with “old money” and knives, the report said.
David Hinkle posted bond and is scheduled to appear Wednesday in General Sessions Court.
The wind-whipped fire prompted a response from multiple fire departments. On scene were members of the Tusculum, Limestone, Newmansville, Mosheim, Town of Mosheim and Nolichuckey volunteer fire departments.
“We had flames throughout,” said Cameron Waters, Newmansville Volunteer Fire Department chief.
Firefighters remained on scene at the house until about 2 p.m. Monday doing overhaul and mopping up hot spots.
Dakota Steele, of the Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department, was the first to arrive on scene with a fire truck.
“We had heavy fire coming from the back of the house,” Steele said Monday. “It looked like it started somewhere around the back porch.”
Damage was “pretty extensive, probably due to the age of the house. It’s probably going to be a total loss,” Steele said.
Terri Hinkle was asleep in a downstairs bedroom about 10 a.m. Monday when she heard what sounded like “pecking” at her front door.
Two men told Hinkle her house was on fire.
“If I had slept five more minutes, I wouldn’t be here,” Hinkle said Monday morning.
David Hinkle may have suffered smoke inhalation, his wife said.
The house sustained heavy fire damage to the upstairs area and smoke and water damage to the downstairs area. Fire officials said it is uninhabitable. The house is insured, according to a sheriff’s department report.
Terri Hinkle said she and her husband would probably stay with family or friends.
“We couldn’t get nothing out. The house was already engulfed in smoke,” she said.
Terri Hinkle said in conversation outside the house that she was not allowed to go upstairs.
Firefighters encountered persistent winds and temperatures in the 30s as they worked to extinguish the flames.
Firefighters took turns putting water on the flame-blackened house. Multiple departments responded to allow fellow firefighters a chance to take breaks from the cold and also because of the shortage of volunteers available during the day.
“It was the wind mixed with the cold mixed with the snow,” Steele said. “Once we got the manpower there to do an actual attack on it, we got it knocked out pretty quick.”
Also on scene was the Debusk Rehab Unit, Greene County Sheriff’s Department and Chaplain Danny Ricker.
The Greene County Commission Education Committee reviewed recent legislation and state funding to provide more career and post-secondary opportunities for grades 6-12 at its meeting Monday.
Greene County Director of Schools David McLain gave an overview of some of the legislation the Tennessee General Assembly passed during its 2019 session as well as budgetary increases made by the state.
One of the most important actions taken on the state level was the approval of the GIVE Act, which will provide funding for high school students to take four dual-enrollment courses at either a college or university or at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology institution, McLain said.
Previously the state has provided funding to high school students to cover tuition for two dual-enrollment courses.
“Beginning in July of 2020, students will be able take more dual-enrollment courses in high school without costing them money for tuition,” he said.
The state has also allocated $1.8 million in additional funding for ACT testing. The state requires each high school student to take the academic assessment exam during the junior year.
According to data released last month by the Tennessee Department of Education, 50% of students retaking the ACT as seniors increased their composite score. Of those students, 41.7% earned a score of 21 or higher, making them eligible for the Tennessee Hope Scholarship.
Additional funding to provide opportunities for high school students to take the ACT Work Keys exam and earn a National Career Readiness Certificate was also part of the state budget, McLain said.
Staff from both schools systems and the Greene Technology Center have worked towards this funding, he said, and the certificate is required by industries such as Eastman to be hired for certain positions.
The state has also provided $75,000 more in its budget for middle school career and technical education.
“The state is really pushing career and technical education at the middle school level,” he said.
Legislation passed in the last General Assembly session requires school systems to provide 50% of its students in grades 6-8 career and technical education opportunities.
While the school system is meeting that requirement at the high school level, it is exploring options for grades 6-8, McLain said.
One reason that system administrators and teachers are excited about the conversion to middle schools for grades 6-8 next year for the entire system is the better ability the district will have to provide these type of courses, he added.
Next school year, the district will adopt the middle school concept as DeBusk, Mosheim and Ottway will join Chuckey-Doak Middle School as middle schools.
An option being explored would offer some basic courses such as keyboarding for grades 6-8, he said. Another option is to move some of the career and technical courses offered now at the high school level to the middle school and providing new course offerings for grades 9-12.
Assistant Director of Schools Dr. Bill Ripley told the committee that staffing and individual school needs will drive what is offered on the middle school-level, and all options are being explored.
The state also provided $40 million in new funding statewide for school safety. School systems had to apply for funding. Greene County Schools received $134,000 in non-recurring funds and $60,000 in recurring funds. All have been used to provide school resource officers, McLain said.
As the meeting concluded, committee member Paul Burkey said he has been thinking a great deal about information presented by McLain to the Greene County Commission last month about its long-term facility plan to address declining student enrollment, aging facilities and the need for funding help from the legislative body.
The revised long-term facility plan calls for building two new high schools, at the same time preferably, and use of the current high school facilities as middle schools.
The plan also calls for Baileyton, Camp Creek, Chuckey, Doak, McDonald, Mosheim, and Nolachuckey to be feeder elementary schools for the middle schools.
Burkey said his primary concern is funding.
The commission needs information showing a range of how much it will take to fund construction of a new school or two schools and how much of a tax increase it would take over a period of years, but not necessarily firm figures to begin discussions, he said.
In addition, information about options towards saving for the new construction and how that would affect funding is also needed as well as how it could reduce the amount of new funding needed, Burkey said. Currently, the county is placing 1 cent of property tax into a restricted capital needs fund for the school system.
The amount that the county owes in education debt service is also decreasing each year until it is paid in 2025, he said, and information is needed about how much would be saved and how it could be used.
The committee were of a consensus that Greene County Budget Director Danny Lowery be asked to compile these numbers and to seek the full commission’s approval of such a request if it is required.
Hop in your vehicle and journey about two hours into western North Carolina, and if you’re lucky, you will spot an elk in Cataloochee Valley.
It’s a similar drive to North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, where visitors may scale the Hatfield Knob Viewing Tower and quietly watch as herds graze.
Nearly 20 years ago this month, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency released 50 elk into the Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area in Campbell County. It signaled the first time since the mid-1800s that elk roamed the Volunteer State.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the first official elk hunt since the animal’s reintroduction in the state.
Yet despite discussion that spanned years and multiple agencies – and included a pitch from the TWRA – state officials never reintroduced elk in Greene County.
Looking back at these milestones, The Greeneville Sun looks back at the debates that ultimately kept elk out of the county.
Some wildlife enthusiasts had dreamed for decades of seeing the large mammal return.
In the 1990s, conversations intensified among state wildlife leaders, politicians and a range of conservation organizations about the prospects of reintroducing elk in Tennessee.
State records show that in 1996, the TWRA launched a study to see if elk restoration could ever be feasible. Biologists concluded that it could, and researchers assessed what areas in the state would be conducive to the animal’s release.
While state officials ultimately settled on the expansive North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, the TWRA floated in the late 1990s a proposal to release elk within the Cherokee National Forest. That included swaths of southern Greene County.
In both official state reports and media interviews, elk biologist Steve Bennett noted that portions of the county could be suitable for an elk release.
“We don’t want elk in all areas, like downtown Greeneville,” he told the Sun in 2014. “We want them to stay in more rural, mountainous areas to reduce their encounters with the public.”
The notion of a local elk release sparked a flurry of debate. Frequently, the conversation pitted farmers and landowners against hunters.
“At the time when we were talking about reintroducing elk into East Tennessee, everybody wanted them,” James McAfee, a retired TWRA Officer, said in an interview with the Sun in 2015. “Except the private landowners and particularly the farmers. The biggest, I guess, negative was the landowners didn’t want them. They already had enough trouble dealing with deer and other wildlife.”
A review of newspaper records reveals that agriculture-based lobbying groups, including the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association, argued strongly against stocking elk in a variety of locations across the region.
The Cattlemen’s Association cited a bevy of concerns. Among those apprehensions: the fear that elk could potentially spread chronic wasting disease to domestic cattle, as well as the animal trampling and destroying crops.
A few of those fears weren’t completely unfounded.
Following elk’s reintroduction in western North Carolina, interactions with humans haven’t always been positive. The Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper has regularly published stories about the tensions generated by the return of elk. One article sported the headline, “Loving – and butting heads with – Smokies elk.”
Beyond traffic accidents and the occasional damage to crops, staff at The Great Smoky Mountains National Park have reported a few hazardous encounters that usually featured a person getting too close to bull elks, a dangerous and illegal maneuver in the park that triggered aggressive behavior from the animals.
Despite the lack of a formal release, elk have traveled through the area. Since 2000, wildlife officers have confirmed about a dozen sightings in the county.
Whatever interest the TWRA once had in stocking elk here appears long gone.
“We have a specific elk restoration zone. No plans to restore elk outside the zone,” said the TWRA’s Elk Program Coordinator Brad Miller, noting the North Cumberland Plateau region. “Greene County might be difficult anyway due to livestock and farming. Elk could create conflicts with those activities.”