By Ray Schaefer - CNHI News Service
Jan. 16, 2013 — OLIVE HILL — Kieara Judd thinks the grownups are listening.
Kieara, a 17-year-old senior at West Carter High School, was one of about 225 people at Thursday’s “A New Beginning” at the Army National Guard Armory, in which Olive Hill residents asked God to heal their town of the scourge of drugs and other evils.
“It shows people are trying to make the community better,” Kieara said. “The drugs need to be gone … I believe Olive Hill needs a change, every way possible.”
There were other teenagers at the meeting. Hailey Collins, 14, is part of “Street Smart for Jesus,” a youth ministry of the Limestone Apostolic Church on Lawton Road.
“I wanted to learn some stuff,” Hailey said. “I’d like to see more things for teenagers to do instead of hanging out downtown.”
Olive Hill Councilwoman Angela Johnson advertized last night’s meeting on Facebook for at least a week, and she produced a five-minute video, five-minute video, “New Beginning for Olive Hill,” but she said the idea for it was Olive Hill Mayor Kenny Fankell’s.
“One thing was on his heart,” Johnson said. “He had the title and everything.”
The Rev. David Gee, pastor of the First Christian Church of Olive Hill — which was condemned after the 2010 floods that wiped out most of downtown (the church has since build a new sanctuary on Caleb Powers Lane) — opened with a prayer. Jerry Sparks of the Three Pine Freewill Baptist Church offered the benediction.
There were people at least two generations older than Hailey and Kiera at the nearly 30-minute meeting.
Calvin Wells, 71, of Soldier, has noticed added state police patrols. He thinks law enforcement is cracking down on the drug dealers.
“It’s a lot better than it was,” Wells said. “I think it’s all of our concern.”
Brenda Cline has lived in Olive Hill nearly all her 61 years. She arrived about 20 minutes before the 6 p.m. start, “to help Olive Hill to pray and see if we can turn it around.”
“What we need is good prayer,” Cline said. “And, I love my town. I think drugs (are) around everywhere.”
Olive Hill shares the same struggles as numerous other Kentucky towns. Capt. James Stephens, commander of the Kentucky State Police (KSP) Post 14 in Ashland, said his office discovered 44 methamphetamine labs in Carter County in 2012. That’s nearly double from 26 in 2011.
Stephens said you can be discouraged that so many meth labs are out there or encouraged that more people are reporting them. “I tend to be an optimistic person,” he said.
Bobby Hall has been Olive Hill’s police chief since 2003, part of a nearly 20-year law enforcement career that includes tours with the Grayson Police Department and Carter County Sheriff’s Office. He says “99.5 percent” property crimes in Olive Hill – thefts and burglaries – have something to do with drug-related offenses.
According to KSP figures for 2011, in Olive Hill there were: four reported burglaries (none cleared); 46 drug/narcotics crimes (45 cleared); and 22 larcenies (six cleared). In 2010, there were five burglaries and 19 larcenies.
Hall said arrests for illegal sales and use of prescription pills has declined lately, but other areas have increased.
“(Pills are) still very prevalent,” Hall said. “... We’ve seen an increase in the production of meth, and we’ve seen a lot more heroin now than what we’ve ever seen before ... That’s a result of prescription pills getting harder to get coupled with being so expensive.”
Hall said five years ago, undercover officers purchased a single pill for $25-$30; now, it’s around $45-$50. He said heroin is cheaper – about $35 a gram – and lasts longer.
With all that, Hall tries to remain optimistic. He calls his situation a “tradeoff.”
“If you cure one problem, the people that want to do drugs and live that lifestyle will find something else,” he said. “It’s just hard to keep it reined in … the number of policemen keeps shrinking, and the crime just keeps increasing. (We’re) trying to do more with less.
“It’s aggravating, it seems like it’s a tradeoff. When you get one thing reined, something else runs wild.”
Like Kieara, Limestone Apostolic member Jim Short is hopeful that Thursday is the beginning of a divine change.
“We’re counting on these kids,” Short said. “to make a difference in this town.”