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Dry Conditions Adding To Scorching Heat

August was drier than normal for Greene County, and continuing dry conditions are contributing to the near-record heat forecast for the remainder of the week.

Greene County’s weather has been dominated by high pressure systems that have led to the drier conditions, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Andrew Moulton at the Morristown office.

“When the atmosphere is drier, we are going to get higher temperatures such as the ones we will be getting in the next week or so,” Moulton said. “We are going to see above normal temperatures, some near record highs, for the next week or so.”

Tuesday’s high is to be near 89 under mostly cloudy skies with the thermometer to top out at 91 for Wednesday through Friday, according to the National Weather Service forecast. Saturday’s high is forecast to be 88 with the temperature falling slightly on Sunday to 85.

Only slight possibilities of precipitation are in the forecast Wednesday through Sunday with the greatest opportunity on Saturday, when there is a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms.

Since late July, the weather has been drier than normal, although the hotter temperatures may feel more pleasant because there is less humidity, Moulton said.

“We have hit a drier spell,” he said. “Fall is typically our driest season of the year, but dry weather has hit a little earlier than usual. Most people are seeing it in their lawns, which may be turning brown. Grass and vegetation prefer the humidity.”

The high pressure over the region is what kept precipitation from Hurricane Dorian away from the region, he said. That air mass helped keep the destructive storm from coming further inland.

According to the University of Tennessee Agriculture Research Center, 3.54 inches of rain fell in the month of August, which is about about three-fourths of an inch under the average rainfall for the month. August’s normal amount of rainfall is 4.68 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

August is the first month in more than a year and a half that the rainfall total for Greene County was below average. The last time was in January 2018, when the rainfall total was 1.75 inches lower than normal.

The rainfall amount for May was close to average, with two-hundredths of an inch more precipitation than the average.

The overall rainfall total for 2019 is still well above average, Moulton said. Through the end of August precipitation for the year is 11.44 inches above average.

Thus far for the year, 42.68 inches of rainfall have been recorded at the UT Agriculture Research Center, which is almost Greene County’s annual average. Rainfall locally averages about 42.75.

This year has featured one of the wettest months on record: 8.21 inches were measured in February. That amount topped the previous record recorded in February — 7.57 inches in 1944.


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Classics Cruise, Fly To Greeneville Airport

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Have Fun – But Stay Safe – In The Mountains

The climb to the top of the Blackstack Cliffs, which offer matchless views of southern Greene County, isn’t all that challenging.

Dozens of visitors each year have their photo snapped atop a swimming hole in the Lower Paint Creek Recreation Area.

Plenty of folks spend time playing in and around picturesque Margarette Falls.

The backcountry, however, is no theme park.

As autumn approaches – and thousands get ready to journey into the woods to view fall foliage – forest officials urge the public to remember that danger sometimes accompanies breathtaking mountain terrain.

“Your national forests are places of beauty and enjoyment. They offer unique outdoor experiences for many people,” said the Cherokee National Forest’s Terry McDonald. “To ensure that your visit to the great outdoors is enjoyable and memorable always put safety first.”

About 3 million people annually visit the Cherokee National Forest, which cuts through miles of the county. From lost hikers to injured swimmers, local emergency officials respond to distress calls virtually every year.

Forest officials offer a range of tips to better the chance that you safely enjoy nature:

  • Let someone know about your outing plans. If you are taking a lengthy hike, alert a family member or friend when you plan to finish.
  • Be mindful that many roads in the mountains are gravel or dirt. “Driving conditions are much different than in urban areas,” said McDonald. “Slow down, watch for curves, rough driving surfaces and other vehicles.”
  • Be prepared for injury, vehicle problems or quick changes in the weather. “Wear clothing and footwear appropriate for a backcountry outing,” he said. “Keep blankets in your vehicle, bring extra drinking water and a thermos of hot, non-alcoholic beverages, bring a first aid kit, keep flashlights and extra batteries on hand, have a map of the area with you and bring other items that will help you in an unplanned situation.”
  • Be mindful of wild animals, especially rattlesnakes, copperheads and black bears. Each of those animals call the mountains home. “Bears are opportunists by nature and will feed on whatever is readily available. Leaving food out in the open or not disposing of refuse properly becomes the source of most bear and human problems,” he said.
  • When it comes to waterfalls, observe posted signs. “Never jump off a waterfall or dive into a shallow area,” he said. “Rocks can be slippery and it’s easy to lose your balance. Currents near waterfalls can be extremely swift even in areas further upstream.”

Fall, which officially begins Sept. 23, is usually one of the busiest periods in the mountains. Greene County is home to more than 100 miles of hiking trails.


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Thomas Sentenced In Federal Court

Larry Edward Thomas faces charges of murder and homicide by vehicle in Georgia. That fact did not stop Senior U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer from imposing a 200-month prison sentence on the 51-year-old Mosheim man Monday for methamphetamine and firearms-related offenses committed in Greene County in 2015.

Meth-related cases now comprise about 60 percent of Greer’s caseload, the judge said in sentencing Thomas, who entered into a plea agreement last year with federal prosecutors and later tried to withdraw the guilty plea. Thomas’ request for a federal court trial was recently denied.

Thomas was convicted in federal court on charges of conspiracy to deliver at least 150 but less than 500 grams of methamphetamine, along with possession of an illegal firearm that had not been registered.

While the quantity of meth Thomas was convicted of possessing is relatively small compared to amounts other defendants are charged with having, Greer made it clear that all dealers of the highly addictive drug are wreaking havoc throughout the Eastern District of Tennessee.

“What we got here is a whole slew of methamphetamine cases,” Greer told Thomas at sentencing. “This court is almost being overwhelmed by the number of cases involving methamphetamine.”

Greer said the meth pipeline originates with Mexican drug cartels that funnel the drug “by the ton” through major cities like Atlanta to rural areas like Greene County.

Greer wondered why the federal government expends so many resources on detaining individuals trying to enter the U.S. on foot when quantities of methamphetamine continue to be smuggled across the border “by the truckload.”

“It defies all logic,” he said.

Methamphetamine traffickers contribute to the destruction of lives, families and disrupt entire communities, said Greer, who applied mandatory federal guidelines to Thomas’ sentence.

Another factor that added time to Thomas’ federal sentence is his effort to have a trial by jury after reaching a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in 2018 on the meth and firearms charges.

Thomas is charged in a pending separate case in Georgia with 23 criminal counts that include murder, homicide by vehicle and drug possession counts. The charges were filed in January 2016 after a vehicle collision in Gwinnett County during a police pursuit of a car driven by Thomas. The crash killed an elderly couple. Thomas was free on bond on the Greene County charges at the time of the wreck.

PLEA WITHDRAWAL REQUEST

At a sentencing hearing in March in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Thomas made a request to withdraw his guilty plea. He maintained his innocence in the 2015 case and sought a trial by jury.

A motion hearing was held in May in federal court where defense lawyer Jerry J. Fabus Jr. and prosecutor J. Gregory Bowman offered legal arguments whether Thomas should receive a new trial on the charges or be sentenced under the terms of the August 2018 plea agreement with the government.

In filing motions to withdraw his guilty plea, Thomas indicated “he has not demonstrated acceptance of responsibility,” Bowman wrote in a court document filed in June.

Thomas “completely ruined his credibility by openly lying to this court under oath, and his complete reliance on his own testimony has ultimately not overcome his burden for showing a fair and just reason to allow withdrawal of the guilty pleas,” Greer wrote in his order denying a trial for Thomas.

“You either lied under oath when you entered your plea or you lied during the hearing to withdraw the plea,” Greer told Thomas Monday.

Greer did note Thomas’ “lack of criminal history,” but said other factors resulted in the 200-month sentence.

“If people just lie in court without consequences, (it’s) an attack on the very foundation of justice,” Greer said. “It strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system.”

Thomas’ 200-month sentence will run concurrently to the sentence imposed in Georgia. Greer told Thomas he would likely serve his federal time in a state prison in Georgia.

Georgia authorities are expected to return Thomas to that state soon, court officials said.

Mike Morrison, a Gwinnett County assistant district attorney prosecuting the Thomas case, has been keeping abreast of the federal court case in Greeneville.

“As soon as he is sentenced in Tennessee, he will be extradited to Georgia to stand trial for felony murder,” Morrison said earlier this year.

TENNESSEE CASE

Thomas was initially charged in Tennessee with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance; two counts of use of a machine gun in connection with a violent crime; sale, distribution or dispensing a controlled substance; and another firearms-related offense. The case was transferred in 2017 from state to federal jurisdiction.

Thomas, known on the street and referred to in court documents as “Scary Larry,” was arrested on Sept. 6, 2015, by the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.

On that date, deputies responded to a domestic disturbance call in the 7400 block of West Andrew Johnson Highway in Mosheim.

During a search of the house, deputies found numerous firearms, including a 9mm pistol with a full magazine and a 20-gauge sawed-off shotgun attached to a bag containing shotgun shells.

A backpack found in the house contained $13,113 in cash. Deputies also found a bag containing 5.3 ounces of methamphetamine, in addition to drug paraphernalia, court records state.

Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015, Thomas traveled to Atlanta on behalf of a Greene County man to purchase meth from a named defendant and others, according to documents filed in connection with his August 2018 federal court guilty plea.

In court at the August 2018 plea hearing, Thomas admitted to Greer that he was responsible for conspiring with others to distribute “at least 150 grams” but less than 500 grams of meth, and that he possessed the sawed-off shotgun inside the residence, and that the gun was not registered to him.

While Thomas admitted his guilt at the earlier hearing, a motion filed in March on Thomas’ behalf by Fabus states he “only said what he needed to say to get through the (hearing) upon the advice of counsel,” and now maintains his innocence.

Thomas told his former lawyer, a court-assigned federal defender, that he wanted “at all times” to go to trial, the motion states. Thomas asserts that lab test results on the methamphetamine he was charged with possessing were not provided by the government, in addition to a recorded interview he gave and other discovery.

GEORGIA CASE

Thomas was free on bond on Jan. 28, 2016, when he and son Jesse Cole Thomas were involved in a pursuit with police that ended in Gwinnett County, Georgia, in a collision with another car.

Larry Thomas is charged in a 23-count indictment pending in Georgia that includes different theories of felony murder and homicide by vehicle.

He is also charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer; trafficking in methamphetamine; trafficking in morphine, opium or heroin; possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; possession of a firearm or knife during commission of a crime; and two counts of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The fatal crash occurred late on the night of Jan. 28, 2016, in Georgia, according to arrest warrants filed by the Gwinnett County Police Department.

A Johns Creek police officer spotted a car driven by Thomas with a burned-out tag light. A traffic stop was attempted.

Police reports state that Larry Thomas appeared to pull over, but suddenly accelerated, reaching speeds up to 83 mph. The pursuit began in Fulton County and crossed the Gwinnett County line.

The full-size Ford collided with a Mercedes sedan in Gwinnett County as Thomas was being pursued by the Johns Creek police officer from neighboring Fulton County, an Atlanta suburb.

The two-minute pursuit ended when the Ford driven by Larry Thomas collided at an intersection with the Mercedes occupied by 77-year-old Kryzysztof Krawczynski and 78-year-old Elzbieta Gurtler-Krawczynska, both of Norcross, Georgia.

The couple, retired researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, were returning home from a dinner celebrating Gurtler-Krawczynska’s 78th birthday, police said.

Both died as the result of injuries suffered in the crash.

Jesse Thomas was sentenced in June 2018 in U.S. District Court in Greeneville to a prison term of 101 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and possession of an illegal firearm that had not been registered.

Other drug possession and firearms-related charges against 21-year-old Jesse Thomas were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. His sentence runs concurrently with another imposed in July 2017 in Gwinnett County, Georgia, for convictions on drug possession charges filed after his arrest there on Jan. 28, 2016.